What Does the Law Say?


NOTE: The District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA) allows a woman to file a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights (DCOHR) or pursue a private lawsuit. You can assume that the explanation of the DCHRA is the same regardless of which procedure you choose, except where it is noted that they differ.


Where is the law regarding sex discrimination in employment in the District of Columbia found?


The District of Columbia Human Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination in employment. The DCHRA can be found in Title 2, Chapter 14 of the DC Code.


To whom does the DCHRA apply?


The DCHRA applies to employees and prohibits employment discrimination by their employers, labor organizations, and employment agencies.


Under the DCHRA, what is illegal?


Under the law, it is illegal for an employer, employment agency, or labor organization to discriminate based upon the "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, or political affiliation."


Specifically, under the DCHRA, all of the following is illegal:
1) for an employer to refuse to hire or to discharge any individual "or to otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment;"
2) for an employment agency to "fail or refuse to refer for employment, or to classify or refer for employment" or otherwise discriminate against any individual; and
3)for a labor organization to exclude or expel any individual from its membership; "to limit, segregate, or classify its membership"; or to refuse to refer for employment any individual so as to "deprive such individual of employment opportunities."


What is sex discrimination?


Any practice or policy that treats women unfairly simply because they are women constitutes sex discrimination. Such acts can either be overtly degrading to women (such as sexual harassment) or simply differential treatment toward women.


What constitutes sex or gender discrimination under DCHRA?


Sex discrimination can include refusing to hire or refer an individual for employment, discharging from employment or excluding from membership in a labor organization, or other adverse actions where the sex of the employee is the primary basis for different treatment.


What is an "employee" under this law?


"Employee" means any individual who is working or seeking a job from an individual or company who is willing to provide compensation. It also includes a member of a labor union.


What is an "employer" this law?


"Employer" means any person who pays another individual to do work for them. This includes employment agency's and labor organizations, but excludes the employer's parent, spouse, children or domestic servants who perform work around the employer's house.


Are women a "protected class"?


Yes, women are considered a protected class because of the history of discrimination against them. A statutorily protected class, such as women, is one that benefits from the protection of federal, state, and/or local anti-discrimination laws. The DCHRA protects women against employment discrimination.


Is there a federal law about sex discrimination?


Yes, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law which prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sex. It was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which guarantees equal benefits to pregnant women. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 guarantees equal pay for equal work.


How does the state law compare with federal in terms of coverage?


D.C. law and federal law provide nearly identical protections to women. In fact, the DCHRA explicitly states, as its primary purpose, that D.C. law is designed to execute the policies of federal anti-discrimination laws, and thus, D.C. courts have frequently turned to federal law to interpret and implement the DCHRA.

However, one main difference is that Title VII only applies to employers with fifteen (15) or more employees and the DCHRA applies to employers with any number of employees. Furthermore, unlike Title VII, the DCHRA additionally prohibits other people in your workplace, including your supervisor and co-workers, from assisting and/or encouraging the discrimination. In effect, under the DCHRA, your supervisor and co-workers can be held liable even though they did not perform the discriminatory conduct themselves.


Is it ever okay for my employer to treat or impact women differently because of their sex?


Under the DCHRA, your employer's practices that have a discriminatory effect on women and which would otherwise be prohibited are not illegal if your employer can justify them by "business necessity." Business necessity can be proved by showing that, without the practice, business cannot be conducted.


A discriminatory practice CANNOT be justified by any of the following:
1) increased cost to business;
2) business efficiency;
3) comparative characteristics of women as opposed to men (e.g., that men are stronger than women);
4) the stereotyped characterization of women as opposed to men (e.g., that women are more inclined to quit work to raise a family); or
5) the preferences of co-workers, employers, customers, or any other person.


In a nutshell, what must I prove to win my case?


You must show several elements of evidence, known as a "prima facie case," which varies depending on the type of claim you bring. Generally, you must prove that you suffered an adverse employment action because you are a woman. To prove that an adverse action was taken against you by your employer, you must show a tangible change in your duties or working conditions resulting to an employment disadvantage.

In any sex discrimination case, you will have the ultimate responsibility to persuade the trier of fact (i.e. the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, judge, or jury) that you were discriminated against because of your sex.


What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to their denials?


Though your employer does not have to deny your allegations, it will likely try to provide a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for why you were treated differently. For example, it could claim that its practices are the result of business necessity.

To counter its response, you will need to persuade the trier of fact (i.e. the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, judge, or jury) that your employer's reason is a pretext or cover-up and that sex discrimination was the true reason.


Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?


To come under the protections of the DCHRA you must file a complaint within one year of the unlawful discrimination. To learn more about how to file a complaint with the DCOHR or a private lawsuit in a D.C. court, How to File a Claim.

If you are claiming that a hostile work environment existed at your job, then if any single act that contributed to the hostile environment occurred within the last year, then it does not matter that some of the other acts fall outside this time limit. Unfortunately, if all of the acts that contributed to the hostile work environment occurred more than one year ago, then the statute of limitations has run and you are barred from filing a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights (DCOHR) and from filing a private lawsuit.


Who enforces the law?


The DCOHR enforces D.C. law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal anti-discrimination laws.


How do I file a claim of sex discrimination with D.C. Office of Human Rights?


To learn more about how to file a complaint with the DCOHR or a private lawsuit in a D.C. court, visit the How to File a Claim.


If I prove my sex discrimination claim, what kind of remedies am I entitled to?


You may be entitled to equitable relief, which is non-monetary relief intended to make you whole again, including but not limited to injunctive relief to correct your employer's discriminatory practices or reinstatement to any position that you lost as a result of discrimination. Additionally, you may be able to recover monetary relief, such as back pay to compensate you for lost earnings and front pay to compensate for a pay differential resulting from discrimination. To learn more about the remedies that you may be entitled to under the DCHRA, visit Remedies.


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