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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.