State Law: Vermont

 

The Law

The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act, found in Title 21, Chapter 6, Subchapter 6, Sections 495 to 496, makes it illegal for an employer or labor organization to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex.


Under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act, an "employee" means, "every person who may be permitted, required or directed by any employer, in consideration of direct or indirect gain or profit, to perform services." An "employer" includes "any individual, organization, or governmental body including partnership, association, trustee, estate, corporation, joint stock company, insurance company, or legal representative, whether domestic or foreign, or the receiver, trustee in bankruptcy, trustee or successor thereof, and any common carrier by mail, motor, water, air or express company doing business in or operating within this state, which has one or more individuals performing services for it within this state."Thus, the Vermont statute against discrimination in the workplace applies to employers with one or more employees, while Title VII only applies to employers with 15+ employees.


The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act specifically covers employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, ancestry, place of birth, HIV-related blood test, workers’ compensation, and family/parental leave.


Section 495(a)(8) of the Act makes unequal pay illegal. It says an employer may not "discriminate between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees of one sex at a rate less than the rate paid to employees of the other sex for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and is performed under similar working conditions."


Section 495(h) specifically covers sexual harassment and mandates that employers adopt a policy against sexual harassment that explains the consequences for perpetrators. Employers with five or more employees are required to describe the process and contact information for sexual harassment complaints.


Sexual harassment, as defined in the Fair Employment Practices Act in Section 495(d), means "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:a) submission to that conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment; orb) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a component of the basis for employment decisions affecting that individual; orc) the conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."


Filing A Complaint

The Civil Rights Division of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office investigates employment discrimination complaints for private employees, and the Vermont Human Rights Commission investigates complaints made by state employees.


State Employees:

The Vermont Human Rights Commission investigates complaints of individuals employed by the state. It investigates complaints filed with it free of charge. Complaints under state law must be filed within one year 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 (802) 828-2480 or 1-800-416-2010. You may also e-mail or mail the Commission, which is located at 135 State Street, Drawer 33; Montpelier, Vermont 05633-6301.


When you contact the Commission, you will be asked questions about your allegations. The Executive Director will determine whether the Commission has jurisdiction and will investigate your claim. If so, a staff member will prepare a formal charge of discrimination, which you must sign and have notarized.


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 have, on average, between six and nine months to investigate your claim by collecting all relevant information and interviewing potential witnesses. After the investigation is complete, the investigator will prepare an Investigative Report that summarizes the investigation and recommends whether there is reasonable cause to believe you have been discriminated against and your rights violated. You and the employer will have 10 days to respond to the Investigative Report.


The Investigative Report is sent to the Commissioners. At a Commission meeting (termed a hearing), the parties are given the opportunity to make brief oral presentations and answer the Commissioners’ questions. After this, the Commissioners will make a final determination as to whether there is reasonable cause. If no cause is found, the complaint is dismissed.


If reasonable cause is found, your case will be transferred to the Executive Director. You and your employer will be asked to attempt to negotiate a settlement through the Commission’s formal mediation proceedings. If no settlement is reached within six months, the Commission will decide whether to close the case or pursue the matter in court. An attorney is not necessary; however, you may decide to be represented by an attorney at any point throughout the administrative process.


Non-State Employees:

The Civil Rights Division of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office investigates employment discrimination complaints for individuals employed by private employers free of charge. Complaints under state law must be filed within 300 days of the date you became aware you were being discriminated against or the date of the alleged illegal act. The Division can be reached via telephone at (802) 828-3657 or 1-888-745-9195.


An Employment Questionnaire is available if you wish to file an employment discrimination complaint. It can be mailed to the Civil Rights Unit, 109 State Street; Montpelier, VT 05609-1001 or taken to the office.


If the Division has jurisdiction over your allegations, a staff person will draft a formal charge of discrimination that you must sign and have notarized. Once you file a formal complaint with the Division, the Division 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. You will be asked whether you are interested in mediating the complaint.


An investigator will be assigned to your case, who will investigate your claim by collecting all relevant information and interviewing potential witnesses. You may be asked to attend a fact finding conference. 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 reasonable cause is found, you and your employer will be asked to attempt to negotiate a settlement through the Division’s conciliation proceedings. If no settlement is reached, the Attorney General may file a complaint in state court or intervene if the complainant has already filed a private action in court.


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) or punitive damages, which are capped under federal law. Many Vermont attorneys thus choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law.