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Filing a Discrimination Claim – Vermont

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

The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, place of birth, age (age 18 and over), handicap (disability) and HIV status.

Vermont law also provides broader protection for disabled employees than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it determines whether a disabled employee is eligible for legal protection without considering the mitigating measures taken by that employee to address his or her disability.

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

A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Civil Rights Unit of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (CRU), 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 Vermont anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you may wish to file with the CRU, as the EEOC enforces federal law, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency.

Filing with the CRU 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 CRU can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court.

To file a claim with the CRU, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the CRU can be found at: http://www.atg.state.vt.us/display.php.

Attorney General’s Office
Civil Rights Division
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609-1001
Intake Phone: (802) 828-3657
Toll-Free: (888) 745-9195
TTY: (802) 828-3665
Fax: (802) 828-3187

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 Boston Area Office
John F. Kennedy Federal Building
Government Center
4th Floor, Room 475
Boston, MA 02203
Phone: (617) 565-3200
TTY: (617) 565-3204

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the CRU or EEOC to file a claim. 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 CRU or 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, however, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies. State law may permit longer filing deadlines, but it is important to pursue these claims promptly, before it becomes more difficult to locate relevant documents and witnesses.

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

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 CRU 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 going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to proceed with your state discrimination claim.

Because Vermont law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim that are capped under federal law, many Vermont attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law only. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court, using state or federal law. It is also easier in Vermont state court to prevent summary judgment (a dismissal of the case prior to trial after presenting disputed and undisputed facts to a judge), according to some attorneys.

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.) If you have received one of these EEOC notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney.

A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within 3 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against. (Because the law is unclear, some attorneys argue you can file a case within 6 years, but to be safe, your case should be filed within 3 years if possible).

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.