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Filing a Discrimination Claim – Montana

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

The Montana Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, religion, marital status, color, sex, physical or mental handicap, age, or national origin.

A person of any age may bring an age discrimination complaint under Montana law, unlike federal law which allows only persons 40 and older to bring an age discrimination claim.

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

In Montana, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Human Rights Bureau (HRB) of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry 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.

The Montana anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you will only be covered under state law, and should file with the HRB. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you will be able to initiate a claim under both federal and state law by filing with the HRB.

To file a claim with the HRB, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the HRB can be found at: http://erd.dli.state.mt.us/HumanRights/HRhome.htm.

Human Rights Bureau
1625 11th Avenue
Second Floor
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 444-2884

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the HRB to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your state claim, you must file with the HRB within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. This deadline is extended to 300 days if you have followed a written grievance procedure established by a collective bargaining agreement, contract, or written rule or policy to resolve the dispute. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the HRB (who will refer your claim to the EEOC) 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. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

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

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the HRB or EEOC, and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first having the HRB referring your claim to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called exhaustion of your administrative remedy.

There is no private right of action under Montana law for discrimination claims, which means that you cannot file a lawsuit directly in court under Montana law. You are allowed to appeal the determination of your case in court only after following the HRB’s process to its conclusion or if the HRB does not follow established deadlines.

Due to the speed and low cost of the administrative process, many Montana attorneys choose to pursue employment discrimination cases before the HRB, rather than filing in federal court. In the Montana administrative process, the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages for a discrimination claim are not limited or capped as they are under federal law, although they generally tend to be lower than the amount typically awarded in court. However, most discrimination lawsuits can also be filed in federal court using federal law. 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 the document known as 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 the notice.)

A lawsuit based upon your state discrimination claim can be brought only after appealing the HRB’s determination of your case.

These deadlines are called the statute of limitations. If you have received one of these agency notice, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.