If you work for a private-sector (non-government) employer in Washington, DC, you can file a discrimination claim with the DC Office of Human Rights (OHR), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or both. Unlike the EEOC, OHR offers mandatory mediation and the opportunity for an administrative hearing. Here’s what you should know about how to file a discrimination claim with OHR:
What are my rights as an employee in DC?
OHR is a DC government agency that enforces the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA). The DCHRA prohibits employers in DC from discriminating against employees on the basis of:
- Familial status
- Family responsibilities
- Gender identity or expression
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- National origin
- Personal appearance
- Place of residence or business
- Political affiliation
- Sexual orientation
- Source of income
- Status as a victim of an interfamily offense
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 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.
How do I file a discrimination claim with OHR?
There are multiple steps in the process for filing a discrimination claim against your DC employer:
Step 1: Complaint questionnaire
The first step is to file a Complaint Questionnaire with OHR within 1 year of the discrimination. Make sure to include each instance of discrimination or retaliation. Explain what happened, who took the action, and when it happened. You can attach additional pages if necessary. 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.
Step 2: Intake interview
OHR will review your questionnaire to determine if you have a claim that OHR processes. If you stated a claim, OHR will schedule an intake interview, which may be in person or by phone. An OHR intake officer will ask you questions about your claims during the interview. To improve your chances of success, you’ll need 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 (i.e., a formal written complaint identifying all of your claims) for you to review and sign before a notary.
Step 3: Service of charge
Once you submit your signed, notarized Charge of Discrimination, OHR will docket your case. Within 15 days, OHR will send both you and your employer a Letter of Notice, which will include a copy of the charge and a date for mandatory mediation.
Step 4: Mediation
Mediation is a mandatory 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. OHR will close your case if you and your employer settle.
Step 5: Investigation
If you aren’t able to settle your case at mediation, a Human Rights Officer (HRO) will investigate your claims.
Your employer will have an opportunity to submit a Position Statement within 20 days of receiving the Letter of Notice and the charge. The Position Statement provides the employer’s response to your claims.
Within 30 days of receiving your employer’s Position Statement, OHR will provide you with a summary of your employer’s statement. You may provide a rebuttal verbally or in writing within 20 days of receiving the summary.
Additionally, the HRO may request to interview you, your employer, or other witnesses.
Step 6: Cause determination
After completing the investigation, the HRO will make a recommendation about whether there is probable cause to believe your employer discriminated against you. The OHR Director will review the recommendation 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 within 15 days of receiving the LOD
- Request a substantial weight review with the EEOC if you believe employer violated a federal law like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- File a petition for review in DC Superior Court within 3 years of receiving the LOD
Step 7: Conciliation
If OHR issues a probable cause finding, your case will be scheduled for conciliation, which is another settlement conference. A neutral mediator will meet with you and your employer to try to settle the case.
Step 8: Hearing
If you don’t reach a settlement during conciliation, you and your employer may present evidence at a public hearing before the DC Commission on Human Rights.
Step 9: Appeal
If you’re unhappy with the Commission’s decision, you can file an appeal with the DC Court of Appeals within 30 days.
Do I need an attorney to file with OHR?
You aren’t required to have an attorney to file a discrimination complaint with OHR. However, an experienced employment lawyer can advise you about how to file a discrimination complaint, what information to include in the complaint, and how to negotiate during mediation. Your attorney can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case, represent you at mediation and a hearing, and make recommendations about whether to file a lawsuit.
If you believe your DC employer discriminated or retaliated against you or you have questions about how to file a discrimination claim, Alan Lescht and Associates can help. We represent private-sector employees in Washington, DC, by providing legal counsel during the OHR process, as well as in lawsuits in DC and federal court.