How to represent yourself after facing discrimination
Before you navigate the courts on your own, consider a less formal option—an agency
Charge of Discrimination.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC) is a state agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws and anti-retaliation laws in Washington. Washington workers who believe they have been unlawfully treated at work, can file a Charge of Discrimination with WSHRC for free.
Who can file a charge of discrimination with WSHRC?
Washington workers, even if you live in another state.
WSHRC investigates the actions of employers in Washington, even if you live in a bordering state.
The Clock is ticking
You must file a Charge of Discrimination within six months after you were treated unfairly.
How small is your Washington employer?
WSHRC can only investigate allegations against Washington employers with eight (8) or more employees.
How to File a Charge of Discrimination
Collect your Evidence
Keep in mind that your former company will have a chance to respond to your Charge of Discrimination, so do what you can to gather proof of your version of the story.
Choose your Storage Place:
You will soon have a bunch of paper. From the get-go, designate an envelope, folder, or box as the single place you will keep all of your information relating to your Charge of Discrimination. This process can be very stressful and losing an important document can be devastating. From the beginning, make a plan for keeping all of your information in one place.
Unlawful treatment is rarely caused by just one event. So gather all the evidence you can about all of the comments, events, or other evidence that, taken together, show that your firing was not only unfair, but unlawful. Think broadly about anything that will bring credibility to your version of the events, e.g., text messages, emails, social media messages or posts, etc. Talk to former coworkers to see if they can corroborate your version of the events.
Request your personnel records
Your personnel records (sometimes called personnel file) will give you the most thorough insight into your employer’s version of the events. You can request them with a simple email or letter. But whether you send a letter or an email, keep a copy of your request for your records. See a sample request.
In Washington, your employer must make your personnel file available to you within a reasonable period of time after you request it. As a practical matter, your employer will likely send you a copy of the file rather than invite you back to view the file locally.
Be forewarned, your employer may charge you for the cost of copying and sending the records (think: cost of copies, cost of time for employee to copy records, and cost of postage).
Remember, the clock is ticking. If you are approaching the 6 month deadline of the WSHRC, do not wait until you receive your personnel records to file your Charge of Discrimination.
Organize your evidence before you start writing so that you can best demonstrate the whole picture. Also, keep in mind that the law often allows your former employer to be a jerk, as long as she is an equal-opportunity jerk. So organize evidence the best you can to show that your employer’ conduct was not only unfair, but also unlawful.
Fill out the Intake Questionnaire
Use the evidence you collected to fill out the WSHRC Intake Questionnaire.
Cover all Your Bases
If you believe you were unlawfully targeted for multiple reasons, include all off them on your WSHRC Intake Questionnaire. You can check multiple boxes in response to this question.
When in doubt, error on the side of checking more boxes than less.
Write your Description of the Events:
Questions 5-7 of the WSHRC Intake Questionnaire provides opportunities to write short description(s) of each instance of unlawful treatment.
You are allowed to attach additional pages if necessary. If your story is complicated, additional pages are recommended.
Before you write the short description(s) of unlawful treatment, write your complete story on a separate sheet of paper that you can edit. After you write your whole story, go back and write a short description on Questions 5-7 and refer to your additional pages.
Tips for writing your story.
Write your Ugly first draft
Just like any writing, start by flinging your story on the page without worrying about grammar, spelling, etc. (I like to call this the “Ugly First Draft.”) If it helps, start with “Dear Mom” (or some other close relationship) and write your story like you would tell a close friend or relative. I’m not kidding, try it. You will be surprised at how much it keeps you comfortable writing your story.
Eliminate Extraneous Details
Go back over your Ugly First Draft, and take out extraneous details that are not directly related to your claim(s) against your employer. Keep in mind – the clearer you are about what happened to you, the easier it is for the WSHRC to figure out whether you were discriminated against unlawfully.
Proofread and Edit
Once your complete story is on paper, go back and edit for spelling, grammar, ect. Also, try to match up the evidence you have with the story. For example, if you have an email that corroborates part of your story, next to that part of your story write “(see attached email dated Feb. 4, 2015).” If you have a lot of documents to corroborate your story, considering labeling them as Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, etc. That way it makes your story easier to read with the matching evidence.
Good (legal) story telling tips:
Use consistent terms for people. For example, if your employer’s name is “Jane Wynne,” after the first time you write her name, write her last name in parenthesis (Wynne) and going forward only refer to her as “Wynne.” (E.g., “Jane Wynne (Wynne) was my supervisor for eighteen months. During this period of time, Wynne frequently picked on me for my Muslim faith.”) Repeat this for the other people in your story.
Use consistent names for locations. If multiple locations are important to your story, identify the location once, and then identify a term you will use for that location for the rest of the story. For example, if your employer has multiple locations, identify each location once, then put a term you will use for that location going forward in parenthesis. For example, “Mondays through Wednesdays I worked at the GAP store at the Greenbauer Mall (Greenbauer Store). On weekends I worked at the GAP store at the Winston Mall (Winston Store). But on this particular Saturday, I was assigned to work at the Greenbauer Store …”
Use specific dates whenever you have them: If you have specific dates for events, include the dates. If you don’t have the specific date, but you know it was approximately a certain date, write “…on or about March 7, 2015.”
Use simple language: If you are writing your story without a lawyer, don’t try to sound like a lawyer. WSHRC is accustomed to reading information from non-lawyers, so don’t use legal jargon or try to sound like Matlock.
Be accurate: In many cases, the case will come down to a “he-said-she-said.” When key facts are disputed, the WSHRC investigator is looking for which storyteller is more credible. If you exaggerate a fact that your employer can disprove, your credibility is damaged.
Write your Short Description on the Questionnaire:
After you have your complete story on a separate paper, go back and write the short description on Questions 5-7. Try to boil the events down to a sentence or two. For example:
ABC Co. fired me on March 2, 2015 because I am pregnant.
File the Charge of Discrimination
This is critical.
Your Intake Questionnaire only counts as “filing” if you check BOX 2.
Submit your Questionnaire:
After you complete the questionnaire, submit it to the WSHRC.
Washington State Human Rights Commission
711 South Capitol Way, Suite 402,
P.O. Box 42490 Olympia, WA 98504-2490
FAX: (360) 586-2282
Call with Questions:
Statewide Toll Free: (800) 233-3247
Statewide TTY Toll Free: (800) 300-7525
After your Charge of Discrimination is filed, notice of the filing and a copy of the Charge of Discrimination are sent to you and your employer. The Charge of Discrimination is a public document once it is filed. A civil rights investigator will contact you and conduct an investigation. This may involve a request for documents and an opportunity to interview you and others. You will be notified once the investigator makes a decision in your case.
Remember, WSHRC investigators are neutral fact finders, and cannot offer legal advice or recommend specific attorneys. You are not requirement to have an attorney, but you are allowed to hire one.