By John V. Berry, www.berrylegal.com
We often are asked by employees about their options for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint in Virginia. The answer is that it depends on many factors. For private, federal and other public sector employees in Virginia there are a number of options for filing a complaint of discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation and/or an ongoing hostile work environment. The proper place for filing the complaint depends on a number of factors, including what type of employee you are, the type of discrimination, where you live, and your type of employer. When considering filing this type of complaint it is generally important to consult an attorney to determine the best forum in which to file your complaint. Additionally, it is important to note that where there is more than one option for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint that it is important to get legal advice on the best option given the facts of a particular case.
Federal Employees in Virginia
For federal employees in Virginia, the usual method of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint is to go through their federal agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the date of discrimination. This short deadline can usually be satisfied by contacting a federal EEO counselor contact directly. Federal agencies will provide the EEO contact information for federal EEO complaint counselors. The formal complaint process will follow later if the matter is not resolved. There are also other, less common, routes for filing a federal employee discrimination/harassment complaint, such as filing a grievance (where permitted) and/or a complaint though the Office of Special Counsel, but these are usually not effective when compared to a federal employee’s options at the EEOC.
Private Sector Employees in Virginia
For private sector employees (individuals employed by private companies) in Virginia, there are a number of potential options for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint depending on where they live and the size of their employer. A private sector employee employed by a company with 15 employees or more may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the most common route for those employed by private businesses. The deadline for doing so in Virginia is generally 180 days which can be extended to 300 days, because of a worksharing agreement between Virginia and the EEOC.
A private sector employee can also file a discrimination/harassment complaint with the Virginia Division of Human Rights (DHR) if their employer has 6 to 14 employees, but less than 15 (except for age discrimination claims, when coverage extends to businesses that employ between 6 to 20 employees). A private sector employee, if the matter involves a government contractor, can also file a complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), but this complaint process is less commonly used. Lastly, some counties and municipalities in Virginia have enacted discrimination and harassment ordinances, like Fairfax County and Arlington County which also have procedures for filing complaints. The deadlines for county filings can vary between 180 and 365 days, depending on county. In sum, it is important to figure out the correct forum and to file a claim well in advance of any deadlines.
State Employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia
State employees in Virginia have somewhat different discrimination/harassment complaint options. These include filing a complaint with the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Services (OEES) or the EEOC. These rules have been in flux given that they were provided by Executive Order, which have not been renewed in the past but are currently in effect.
County and Local Employees in Virginia
Finally, county employees have options for filing a discrimination complaints in Virginia as well. They may generally file discrimination/harassment complaints with the EEOC, or if covered by their county or municipality, a local claim. By far, the majority of county employees take their cases to the EEOC and then to the court system, if their matter is not resolved.
It is very important to consult an attorney before choosing a forum in which to file a discrimination / harassment complaint because the correct place for filing complaints vary on the facts of the claim, location and size and nature of the employer. If you need assistance with filing an employment discrimination or harassment complaint, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.