Filing a Discrimination Claim - Oklahoma

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap (disability).

As noted more fully below, disability cases are treated differently under state law because private lawsuits are allowed on disability discrimination grounds only.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission (OHRC), or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a work-sharing agreement, which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to cross-file the claim with the other agency. However, some Oklahoma attorneys recommend that you file with the EEOC first, because of the comparative quality of their investigations.

Filing with the OHRC is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court. If you do not have an attorney, however, you may wish to see whether the OHRC can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court . OHRC complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

To file a claim with the OHRC, contact the nearest office. More information about filing a claim with the OHRC can be found at: http://www.ok.gov/ohrc/.

Oklahoma City Office
Jim Thorpe Building, Room 480
2101 North Lincoln Boulevard
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
Phone: (405) 521-2360
Fax: 405) 522-3635
TDD: (405) 522-3993
Tulsa Field Office
State Office Building, Room 302
440 South Houston
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74127
Phone: (918) 581-2733
Fax: (918) 581-2940

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC's Oklahoma Area Office
210 Park Avenue, Suite 1350
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
Phone: 405) 231-4911
TTY: 405) 231-5745

3. What are my time deadlines?

If you choose to file a discrimination claim with one of these administrative agencies, do not delay in contacting the OHRC or EEOC. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for these agencies to act on your behalf, you must file with the OHRC (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days or with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. But if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file a discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Oklahoma?

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. If your case is not resolved by the OHRC or EEOC, however, you may need to pursue your claim in court.

A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court until the claim is filed with the EEOC, as discussed above, and the EEOC dismisses the charge. This process is called exhaustion of your administrative remedy.

There is no private right of action under Oklahoma law for discrimination claims on the basis of race, sex, age, or religious belief, which means that individuals cannot file a lawsuit in court under Oklahoma law. These claims can be filed in court only by the OHRC. There is, however, a private right of action under Oklahoma law for discrimination claims on the basis of disability, so individuals can file a disability discrimination lawsuit in court under Oklahoma law. Filing a charge of discrimination with the OHRC first is not required to file such a lawsuit in court.

Because Oklahoma law does not permit a court action to be filed under state law, except for disability discrimination claims, many Oklahoma attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be removed to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.

The EEOC must first issue a Dismissal and Notice of Rights or Notice of Right to Sue, (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive it.) If you have received one of these EEOC letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney.

A claim for disability discrimination under state law or wrongful discharge must be brought in Oklahoma state court within 2 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

These deadlines are called the statute of limitations. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.