State Law: Tennessee


The Law

The Tennessee Human Rights Act, found in Tennessee Code Annotated Title 4, Chapter 21, makes it illegal for an employer or labor organization to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex.

In its definition of "employee," the Human Rights Act does not include individuals employed by their parents, spouse, or child or those in the domestic service of the employer. Under Tennessee law, an "employer" means, "the state, or any political or civil subdivision thereof, and persons employing eight (8) or more persons within the state, or any person acting as an agent of an employer, directly or indirectly."

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

The Tennessee Human Rights Act specifically covers employment discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin.

The definition of "discriminatory practices" means, "any direct or indirect act or practice of exclusion, distinction, restriction, segregation, limitation, refusal, denial, or any other act or practice of differentiation or preference in the treatment of a person or persons because of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin."

Filing A Complaint

The Commission 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 or visiting one of the four regional offices or mailing in a complaint form. The general information line is 1-800-251-3589.

Nashville Main Office:

530 Church Street, Suite 305, Cornerstone Square Building

Nashville, TN 37243

(615) 741-5825

Knoxville Regional Office:

531 Henley Street, Room 701

Knoxville, TN 37902

(865) 594-6500

Memphis Regional Office:

170 North Main Street, State Office Building

Memphis, TN 38103

(901) 543-7389

Chattanooga Regional Office:

540 McCallie Avenue, Fourth Floor West Wing

Chattanooga, TN 37402

(423) 634-6837

An Employment Discrimination Questionnaire for the Human Rights Commission may be completed and mailed into the Human Rights Commission or taken with you when you visit a regional office.

Once you file a formal complaint with the Commission, the Commission 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.

An investigator will be assigned to your case, who will investigate your claim by colleting all relevant information and interviewing potential witnesses. After the investigation is complete, the investigator will determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe you have been discriminated against and your rights violated.

If probable cause is found, you and your employer will be asked to attempt to negotiate a settlement through the Commission’s conciliation proceedings. If settlement negotiations fail, a public hearing will be held before a Commission-appointed Hearing Examiner. You may represent your own case, retain an attorney, or the case may be presented by a Commission staff attorney.

You may decide to go through the federal or state court process instead of the Commission’s investigative process. You must first file with the EEOC and request a Notice of Right to Sue in order to file in federal court. There is no "exhaustion" requirement for state law, which means that you can file your claim directly in state court. The attorney you hire will explain this process to you. State law does not limit compensatory damages (emotional pain/suffering), which are limited under federal law. However, state law does not allow for punitive damages, which are recoverable under federal law.

For more information and a more detailed explanation of the complaint process, please visit the Tennessee Human Rights Commission website.