Non-government employees who work in Washington, DC, can go directly to the DC Office of Human Rights (OHR) to file a discrimination complaint. However, if you work for the DC government, you must contact a DC Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselor before you can file with OHR. Here’s what DC government employees should know about filing a discrimination claim:
What are my rights as a DC government employee?
OHR is a DC government agency that enforces the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA). The DCHRA prohibits employers in DC, including the DC government, from discriminating against employees on the basis of:
OHR also enforces the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA).
What damages can I get for workplace discrimination?
If you believe your DC government employer discriminated or retaliated against you or violated your rights under the DCFMLA, you can file a claim to recover damages, including reinstatement to your job, lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages for pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees and costs.
What is the deadline for filing a discrimination claim?
You must contact a District EEO counselor before filing a discrimination claim with OHR. Contact any District EEO counselor within 180 days of the date the discrimination occurred. Visit the DCOHR website to download a list of EEO counselors.
However, there is one exception. if your complaint is for sexual harassment, you can file directly with OHR.
What are the steps in the process?
There are multiple steps in the process for filing a discrimination claim against your DC government agency:
Step 1: EEO counseling
Once you contact an EEO counselor, a 30-day counseling period begins. During that time, the EEO counselor will try to help you resolve your complaint. The EEO counselor may interview you to get information about your claims. The counselor may also talk to your supervisors or other witnesses. If you are unable to resolve your claims during the 30-day counseling period, the EEO counselor will issue you an Exit Letter. The Exit Letter will advise you of your right to file a formal complaint with DCOHR within 15 calendar days.
Step 2: OHR complaint
If you want to continue with your case, you must file a Complaint Questionnaire with OHR within 15 days of receiving the Exit Letter. You can file your Complaint Questionnaire by:
- Completing OHR’s online process, or
- Emailing (email@example.com), mailing (DC Office of Human Rights, 441 4th Street, NW, Suite 570N, Washington DC, 20001), or hand-delivering a completed questionnaire form.
Be sure to include a copy of your Exit Letter with your Complaint Questionnaire.
Step 3: Intake
If your complaint makes a claim under the DCHRA or the DCFMLA, OHR will schedule an intake interview. The interview may be by phone or in person. During the interview, an intake officer will ask you questions about your claims. You’ll need to be able to explain details about how and when your employer discriminated or retaliated against you. Based on your complaint and the interview, OHR will draft a Charge of Discrimination for you to review and sign.
Step 4: Mediation
After you file your charge and complete intake, OHR will schedule mediation, which is a settlement conference. OHR will assign a mediator to your case. The mediator is a neutral party who will try to help you reach a settlement in your case. If you and your employer agree to settle, OHR will close your case.
Step 5: Full investigation
If your case doesn’t settle at mediation, OHR will conduct a full investigation of your claims. OHR may interview you, your employer, and other witnesses and may ask both parties for documents.
Step 6: Probable cause determination
After the investigation, OHR will review your case and issue a Letter of Determination (LOD) that explains whether OHR found probable cause or no probable cause:
- Probable cause: This means that OHR believes that your employer may have discriminated against you. Your employer has the right to request reconsideration of the finding.
- No probable cause: This means that OHR does not believe your employer discriminated against you. If you receive a no probable cause finding, you have three options:
- File a request for reconsideration with OHR
- Request a substantial weight review with the EEOC if you believe your DC government employer violated a federal law like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Rehabilitation Act/Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- File a petition for review in DC Superior Court
Step 7: Conciliation
If you receive a probable cause finding, OHR will schedule a conciliation. Conciliation is like mediation; it just occurs at a different point in OHR’s process. You and your employer will meet with a neutral mediator, who will try to help you reach a settlement in your case.
Step 8: Hearing
If your case does not settle during conciliation, an independent hearing examiner will either hold a hearing or issue a summary determination as to whether you were discriminated against, based on the written evidence. The Director of OHR will review the hearing examiner’s determination and make a final decision. The Director usually agrees with the hearing examiner.
Step 9: Appeal
If you disagree with the Director’s final decision, you may file an appeal in DC Superior Court.
Do I need an attorney to file an EEO complaint?
You aren’t required to have an attorney to file a discrimination complaint against your DC government employer. However, the EEO process is confusing, and it may be helpful to consult an employment attorney. An experienced lawyer can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case and can provide guidance about what information to provide to the EEO counselor and in your OHR complaint. Your attorney can also represent you at OHR mediation and make recommendations about whether to file a lawsuit in court.
If you believe your DC government employer discriminated or retaliated against you, Alan Lescht and Associates can help. We represent DC government employees in discrimination and retaliation cases by providing legal counsel during EEO counseling and the OHR process. We also represent DC government workers in lawsuits in DC and federal court.