Last month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed several new bills that expand workplace discrimination protections. Beginning July 1, 2020, Virginia employees will finally have rights comparable to those that federal, DC, and Maryland laws have recognized for years. Here’s what you need to know about Virginia’s new prohibitions against veteran and LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace:
Virginia recognizes new protected classes
Anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on certain protected classes (characteristics). Beginning July 1, 2020, Virginia will recognize veteran status, gender identity, and sexual orientation as protected classes. This means that veteran and LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace will be illegal for covered employers.
Through June 30, 2020, Virginia law only prohibits employment discrimination based on the following protected classes:
Prohibition against workplace discrimination and retaliation
Under the new law, it will be illegal for covered employers to fire, non-select or not-hire, or take other discriminatory actions against job applicants and employees on the basis of a protected class, including gender identity, sexual orientation, and veteran status. Additionally, it will be illegal to retaliate against employees who engage in protected activity by opposing unlawful discrimination.
Employers affected by the new laws
Whether the new law applies to your employer depends on the type and basis of discrimination:
- Firing based on age: Employers with 6–19 employees
- Firing based on any other protected class: Employers with 6 or more employees
- Discriminatory action other than firing: Employers with 15 or more employees
How to file a discrimination claim under the new law
First, you must file a charge (complaint) with the Virginia Division of Civil Rights within 300 days of the discrimination. If the Division does not issue a decision or dismissal of your complaint within 180 days of receiving your charge, you may request a right-to-sue letter. Within 90 days of receiving the right-to-sue letter, you may file a lawsuit in general district court or circuit court where your employer is located.
Damages you can recover under the new VA employment laws
In general, through June 30, 2020, you can only recover:
- Up to 12 months of back pay
- Attorney’s fees of no more than 25% of the back pay award
However, beginning on July 1, 2020, you may seek:
- Back pay
- Compensatory damages for pain and suffering
- Punitive damages ($350,000 max.)
- Reasonable attorney fees and costs
- Temporary and permanent injunctive relief
Dealing with workplace discrimination
If you are the victim of workplace discrimination or retaliation, it may be helpful to consult an experienced employment attorney. An attorney can determine whether anti-discrimination laws apply to your employer and whether your employer discriminated against you. A lawyer can advise you about discrimination claims you may have under Virginia’s current or new laws, as well as federal laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you believe your employer discriminated or retaliated against you, Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., can help. Our attorneys represent state and local government workers and private-sector employees in Virginia. We handle employment cases involving discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, reasonable accommodations, and other workplace issues.