Where to File Discrimination and Harassment Complaints in Virginia

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.

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Fairfax County Human Rights Discrimination Complaints

By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

This article is an overview of the Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs, Human Rights Division (HRD) process. The purpose of the HRD is to examine and investigate complaints by employees who have claimed discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, familial status or disability involving employment, housing, public accommodations, private education, and credit. Pursuant to the Fairfax County Human Rights Ordinance located in Chapter 11 of the County Code, the HRD evaluates complaints by employees who believe they have been subjected to discrimination and harassment by an employer in Fairfax County.

Filing a Complaint with Fairfax HRD

Generally, an employee must file a complaint with the HRD in person or by telephone within 365 days of the alleged discrimination. Complaints can also generally be filed at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The HRD and EEOC often cooperate with each other and in some cases a discrimination complaint will be considered cross-filed with both agencies. Some of the reasons for filing a discrimination complaint include:

Denial of a promotion due to race, color, age, or disability;

Gender-based salary discrimination;

Termination due to pregnancy; or

Termination after contesting an act of discrimination.

Resolving Complaints at HRD through Mediation

The HRD provides alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods such as mediation, settlement, or conciliation, which allow the employee and employer to avoid future litigation. There can be substantial benefits and cost savings to both an employee and employer in resolving a matter without litigation.

The HRD Investigation Process

The HRD takes a number of steps in order to investigate an employee’s complaint. These steps include the following:

(1) submitting document requests to an employer relating to the alleged discrimination;
conducting witness interviews regarding the alleged discrimination; and

(2)taking site visits to the employer regarding the alleged discrimination.

Following the investigation, HRD will determine whether there is probable cause to find discrimination. A finding of no probable cause can be appealed to the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission. The Commission can reverse the HRD determination, find probable cause, and grant a public hearing. If the Commission does not find probable cause, the employee can utilize the EEOC or court process to advance his or her dispute.

Public Hearing

If a public hearing is granted for an alleged case of discrimination, the case proceeds much like in civil court where information can be sought by the employee and witnesses can be examined. A pre-hearing is conducted to work out evidentiary and witness issues, after which a trial-type hearing is conducted. Following the public hearing, the Commission will determine whether a violation has occurred.

If the Commission finds a violation, it refers the matter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for review and evaluation to determine whether the County Attorney should file a claim against an employer for violating the Fairfax County Ordinances on discrimination. If the claim is dismissed, employees can proceed with the court process.

Conclusion

We represent employees and employers in employment law matters before the Fairfax HRD. If you need assistance with an employment law issue, 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 at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

 

 

Defending Fairfax County Employees in Disciplinary Cases

By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

In our legal practice we represent Fairfax County employees (police officers, teachers, administrators, etc) in defense of disciplinary actions.  Disciplinary actions can range from verbal counseling to removal / termination from employment.  This article covers the more common issues associated with serious proposed actions against Fairfax County employees.  Such actions should be taken, according to Fairfax County regulations only “for good cause and after careful review of allegations with a goal, where appropriate, of correcting problem situations.”  County of Fairfax, Virginia Personnel Regulations  at 16-5.

Disciplinary Process Begins with Investigation

Typically, the first step in the disciplinary process for Fairfax county employees is the investigatory process.  This usually occurs as a result of a complaint from a supervisor or member of the public.  Sometimes the investigatory process can consist of a detailed investigation into allegations of misconduct by county investigators (in serious matters) or other times it can simply consist of a short investigation conducted by an employee’s supervisor (less serious matters).  The investigation may or may not include an interview of the employee under investigation.  If the investigation does not result in a finding of misconduct, the matter is resolved.  If a finding of misconduct is found, Fairfax County may determine to move forward with discipline for the county employee.

Proposed Disciplinary Action

The first step for serious disciplinary cases follows the investigation and usually takes the form of a written disciplinary proposal, termed an “Advance Notice Letter.”  Chapter 16 of the Fairfax County regulations provides the range of potential disciplinary actions for county employees and guidance on proposed disciplinary actions.  The Advance Notice Letter can propose a serious suspension or removal / termination from county service. It will also specify sufficient detail about the factual basis for the proposed disciplinary action, a listing of any previous disciplinary offenses, along with noting the employee’s right to reply (usually within 5 business days of receipt of the letter).

Final Decisions

Following the response to the proposed disciplinary action, a decision will be issued by the deciding official.  When the decision is issued the employee will usually be provided their rights for appealing any disciplinary actions taken.  Such rights likely include the Fairfax County grievance process which is covered in Chapter 17 of the Fairfax County regulations.  The grievance process has a number of timelines which are short and important to keep track of should an employee wish to appeal.

Conclusion

We represent Fairfax County employees in their legal defense against disciplinary actions. If you need legal assistance, 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 at Berry and Berry PLLC Facebook Page.