How Do I File A Claim?


How do I file a state claim with the Human Rights Commission?


If you think you have been discriminated against in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) you may file a claim with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) personally or through an attorney. Complaints must be filed within six (6) months after the date of the alleged discrimination.


How do I contact the Human Rights Commission?


Regional contact information and instructions can be found at the HRC website. If you believe that you have been discriminated against, call one of the Commission offices and ask to speak with an Intake Officer. If the Intake Officer is not available when you call, leave your name and a contact number where they can reach you. The Intake Officer will contact you, usually the same day you call the office. They will explain the law and check whether the issues you're describing fall within their jurisdiction.


Against whom can I file a claim?


You make file a claim against anyone that has discriminated against you on the basis of your sex.


If I choose to file a claim, what is expected of me?


You should gather records of dates, times, and other significant events that could suggest discrimination. If the discrimination is ongoing, keep a journal and record events as they happen. You should have a list of your witnesses and contact information to give to the investigator assigned to your case. The HRC requires that you file your claim within 6 months, the EEOC within three hundred (300) days, and you have three (3) years to seek private litigation in the courts.


How long will the process take?


The Commission tries to conduct investigations within six (6) months of complaint filings. If complaints are complex or are scheduled for an administrative hearing, they can take longer to resolve.


Do I need an attorney?


No, you are not required to have an attorney to file a complaint with the HRC. However, because the HRC cannot give you legal advice, you are always free to consult an attorney for advice and assistance during an investigation.


Where do I find an attorney?


You may be able to find an attorney from the Washington State Bar Association, the National Employment Lawyers Association, or simply the phone book. The HRC does not directly refer people to attorneys.


What if I can't afford an attorney?


If you decide to seek conciliation through the HRC, you do not need an attorney.


What will my attorney need from me?


Your attorney will require your patience, trust, honesty, and candor. Your attorney will need to know all the details about the discrimination you have faced from your employer. She has an ethical obligation to maintain attorney-client confidentiality — that means, everything you say to your attorney remains private. Your attorney may also ask you to recall names, documents, dates, and even times as you reconstruct the events surrounding the discrimination. The more you can help in this effort, the easier it will be for her to ultimately help you.


Can't I sue my employer directly without going through the Human Rights Commission?


Yes, you are always free to consult an attorney and pursue private litigation.


Who will investigate my complaint?


An investigator is assigned to the case by the HRC for an "initial complainant interview." After the investigation is concluded, the investigator makes a recommendation of whether you have a case or not and sends it to the Clerk of the Commission for final action by the Commissioners of the HRC.


What do I do after my initial contact with the Human Rights Commission?


If you decide to file a formal complaint, an intake officer will send you a complaint questionnaire form. You must have your complaint drafted, notarized and filed with the HRC within six months of the date of the alleged discrimination.


What happens after I submit my claim?


You will be contacted within forty-five (45) days by an investigator who will gather information regarding your claim. The investigator will contact the person or company that your complaint was filed against for a written response. The investigator will gather information from both sides and evaluate all available evidence. After the investigation is complete, the investigator will issue a recommended finding. A District Manager will review the finding and will sign the final recommendation. The Commissioners then vote to adopt recommended findings or to set aside findings at their monthly Commission meetings.


What happens if the investigators determine that no "reasonable" or "probable" cause exists on which to base a claim?


If the evidence does not support the charge of discrimination, the Commission will issue a finding of "no reasonable cause" to believe that the alleged discrimination occurred. This finding does not prevent you from pursuing private litigation.


What happens if the investigator determines that "reasonable" or "probable" cause exists on which to base a claim?


If the Commission finds that there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred, they will seek conciliation of your complaint. Remedies may include back pay, reinstatement, rent refunds, or training to eliminate the unfair practice. If conciliation fails, the complaint may be turned over to the Attorney General's office for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.


Can I sue my employer?


Under the WLAD, you must file a formal complaint with the Commission within six (6) months of the discriminatory incident or action. However, a finding of no reasonable cause (or any other finding by the Commission), does not prevent you from pursuing private litigation in a court of law. You may bypass administrative procedures and go directly to court because the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex is declared to be a civil right.


What is a "right to sue" letter?


A "right to sue" letter, or notice of a "right to sue," is a notice that ends the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)'s investigation of your employer, and allows you to proceed with a lawsuit against your employer in federal court.


Can I appeal a decision of the Commission?


Depending on the finding, you or your employer can request reconsideration of investigative findings. The requests must be submitted to the Clerk of the Commission within fifteen (15) calendar days from the date of the notice of Commission action. The request is reviewed to determine whether it meets criteria for reconsideration. An Equal Opportunity Compliance Specialist will make a recommendation to deny or grant the reconsideration. The Commissioners make the final decision whether to reopen a case for further investigation. If a request does not meet criteria, it does not go before the Commissioners and the case remains closed with no further action by the Commission.


Can I file a federal claim of employment discrimination as well? If so, how?


If a charge is filed with the HRC and is also covered by federal law, the HRC "dual files" the charge with the EEOC to protect your federal rights. The HRC will usually continue to handle the claim. Likewise, if a charge is filed with the EEOC and also is covered by state or local law, the EEOC "dual files" the charge with the HRC or the appropriate local agency, but ordinarily retains the charge for handling.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of filing a federal claim over a state claim?


The WLAD provides broader coverage than the federal law, Title VII, in several ways. First, the WLAD covers more employers than Title VII, as it covers employers with eight or more employees, while Title VII covers only employers with fifteen (15) or more employees. Second, Washington has adopted an equal rights provision to its state constitution which means it applies what has been described as an "absolutist" standard, i.e. if the classification is based on sex, it is invalid, unless it is based upon physical differences between the sexes. Additionally, while Title VII does not provide a basis for a claim on discrimination based on sexual orientation, as of June 8, 2006, the WLAD will include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.



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