State Law: Montana

 

The Law

The Montana Human Rights Act, Title 49 makes it illegal for an employer or labor organization to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex.


An "employee" under Chapter 814c is defined as "an individual employed by an employer." Under Montana law, an "employer" means "an employer of one or more persons or an agent of the employer but does not include a fraternal, charitable, or religious association or corporation if the association or corporation is not organized either for private profit or to provide accommodations or services that are available on a nonmembership basis."


Thus, the Montana statute against discrimination in the workplace applies to all employers with one or more employees, while Title VII only applies to employers with 15+ employees.

The Montana Human Rights Act specifically covers employment discrimination on the basis of race, creed, religion, color, or national origin, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, and sex.


Filing A Complaint

The Montana Human Rights Bureau investigates complaints filed with it free of charge. Complaints under state law must be filed within 180 days of the date you became aware you were being discriminated against or the date of the alleged illegal act. You may file a complaint with the Commission by calling 1-800-542-0807 and speaking with an investigator. The investigator will draft a formal complaint for you.


Once you file a complaint with the Bureau, it will send your employer a letter and a copy of your complaint, stating that you believe you were/are being discriminated against. The employer will have an opportunity to respond to this complaint. The Bureau offers mediation services if you and your employer are willing to try to settle your complaint.


A compliance officer will be assigned to your case, who will act as a neutral decision-maker to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe you have been discriminated against and your rights violated. A fact-finding conference may be held to retrieve additional information and to allow both parties to state their positions.


If reasonable cause is found, you and your employer will be required to attempt to negotiate a settlement through a conciliation process. If settlement negotiations fail, a public hearing will be held. If your case goes to public hearing, you will not have to incur any legal expenses or other costs, as you would have to pay in a court case, unless you hire your own private attorney.


You may decide to go through the federal court process instead of the Commission’s investigative process. You must first file with the EEOC and request a Notice of Right to Sue letter in order to file in federal court. There is no private cause of action for discrimination in Montana, which means you cannot file a discrimination claim in Montana state court unless you are appealing the Human Rights Bureau’s decision after the administrative process is complete or the Bureau does not meet its deadlines. The Montana administrative process through the Bureau does not limit or cap damages recoverable for a discrimination claim that are capped under federal law. However, damage amounts tend to be lower than those given in court.


For more information and a more detailed explanation of the complaint process, please visit the Human Rights Bureau of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry website