In Washington, employees who believe that they have been the victim of workplace discrimination can file a discrimination lawsuit under state or federal law. Federal laws against discrimination are enforced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and Washington laws are enforced by the Human Rights Commission (“HRC”). The federal and state laws and enforcement procedures are similar, but there are important differences that employers and employees should know.
Prerequisites to File a Discrimination Lawsuit
For violations of federal nondiscrimination laws, an employee must file a complaint with the EEOC before he can bring a federal discrimination lawsuit. In most cases, an employee must file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory act. The deadline can be extended if a state agency enforces a law that forbids the same kind of discrimination.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”) does not require an employee to file a complaint with the HRC before bringing a discrimination lawsuit. There is a six-month deadline for an employee to file a complaint.
Agency Investigation Process
After the EEOC or the HRC receives a discrimination complaint from an employee, it will send a notice of the charge to the employer. The agencies will then investigate the employee’s claim by many methods, including interviewing the employee and his employer and coworkers and gathering documents. Both the EEOC and the HRC might encourage the employer and employee to reach an agreement through mediation or other methods outside court.
Employees do not have to file a discrimination complaint with both agencies. When the EEOC receives a complaint that is also covered by a state law, it will dual-file that charge with the HRC. The same goes for the HRC, which will dual-file a complaint with the EEOC if the employee’s complaint is also covered by federal law.
When the Agency’s Investigation is Complete
If the EEOC determines that unlawful discrimination occurred, the agency will attempt to reach a settlement with the employer. If the parties cannot settle, the EEOC might file a lawsuit against the employer. In the event that the EEOC does not find a violation or decides not to file a lawsuit, then it will issue a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue to the employee so that he can pursue his claims in court.
When the HRC completes its investigation, the investigator will issue a recommended finding, which the Human Rights Commissioners will either adopt or set aside. If the HRC decides not to pursue the claim, the employee can still bring a lawsuit.
The process of a discrimination claim in the federal and the Washington state systems can be complicated. However, employment lawyers have knowledge of these processes and can help employers and employees navigate these systems.