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Does Virginia law bar discrimination in the workplace?

Does Virginia law bar discrimination in the workplace?

The Virginia Human Rights Act bars discrimination in the workplace, and effective July 1, 2020, the Virginia Values Act authorizes a private right of action to remedy discrimination.

If you have suffered discrimination in the workplace, call our experienced Virginia employment discrimination lawyers today at 571-288-1309 or email us at dhammer@zuckermanlaw.com.

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Does Virginia law prohibit pay discrimination?

Virginia law prohibits any employer from discriminating in pay and/or compensation for equal work requiring equal skill, pay, and effort and performed under similar conditions. Va. Code § 40.1-28.6. The law provides an exception where unequal payment is made pursuant to a seniority or merit system, or where earnings are measured based on quality of production. Id.

What is the Virginia Human Rights Act?

As amended by the the The Virginia Values Act, the Virginia Human Rights Act (VA HRA) prohibits discrimination based on race; color; religion; national origin; sex; sexual orientation, gender identity; pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; marital status; status as a veteran; or age. See Va. Code §§ 2.2-3900 et seq. The VA HRA applies to places of public accommodation, including educational institutions and in real estate transactions, and it applies to employment.

Does the VA HRA create a private cause of action for employees discriminated against at work?

As amended by the Values Act, the VA HRA creates a private cause of action for employees who are unlawfully discharged and discriminated against. The amended VA HRA authorizes a victim of discrimination to bring a civil action in district or circuit court after receiving a notice of right to file a civil action from the Division of Human Rights of the Department of Law.

What employers are covered by the Virginia Human Rights Act and other applicable statutes prohibiting discrimination?

The VA HRA as amended prohibits employers with five or more employees from discriminating or discharging employees based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions.

It prohibits employers with more than five employees from unlawfully discharging workers based on race, color, religion, national origin, status as a veteran, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. The prohibition on unlawful termination based on age covers only employers that have more than five and fewer than 20 employees (the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act covers employers with 20 or more employees). The VA HRA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees not only from wrongful termination, but also from taking any unlawful discriminatory employment action on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, status as a veteran, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

The Virginians with Disabilities Act (VDA), Va. Code § 51.5 et seq., covers employers with fewer than 15 employees, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers those with 15 or more employees. While the VA HRA prohibits discrimination based on disability, the VDA and ADA provide more comprehensive protections for disabled individuals, including a prohibition on discrimination against individuals who have qualifying physical and mental disabilities.

How can an employee bring a private cause of action against an employer for discrimination?

Most employees alleging discriminatory employment practices must first file a claim of discrimination with the Virginia Division of Human Rights (DHR) before filing in court.

DHR investigates the complaint and either dismisses the charge with no finding of discrimination or attempts to resolve a finding of discrimination through informal methods. After dismissing or unsuccessfully resolving, DHR issues the complaining party with a notice of their right to sue. A complainant may also submit a written request to DHR for a notice of a right to file, which DHR provides after either 180 days from the date the original complaint was filed or when it determines it will not complete its investigation within 180 days.

An employee alleging discrimination under the VA HRA may file in a Virginia district court with jurisdiction within 90 days of receiving a notice of their right to file from DHR.

A woman alleging discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions may also file directly in a state court with jurisdiction without going through DHR.

What is the statute of limitations for filing a claim of discrimination?

The statute of limitations to file with DHR is 300 days from when the discrimination occurred. An employee may file a complaint in court within 90 days of the DHR’s final decision.

The statute of limitations for an employee alleging discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions to bring an action in court is two years from when the discrimination occurred.

An employee alleging discrimination based on disability may file directly in a state court with jurisdiction within 180 days of the discrimination or after sending a written statement via registered mail to the defendant outlining the violation within 180 days of when it occurred.

What damages are available for a successful discriminatory discharge claim under the VA HRA?

A prevailing plaintiff under the VA HRA may receive uncapped backpay damages, as well as uncapped compensatory and punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. The VA HRA as amended does not specify a cap on any of these damages, but Virginia law generally caps punitive damages at $350,000. See Va. Code § 8.01-38.1.

A court or jury may also award an employee other equitable relief under the VA HRA. This could include a temporary or permanent injunction, restraining order, or other order, including an order enjoining the defendant from continuing to engage in a discriminatory practice, or an order requiring other action by the defendant.

Top-Rated Northern Virginia Employment Lawyers

Our experienced Northern Virginia discrimination lawyers are ready to fight for you to maximize your recovery. In 2019, Northern Virginia Magazine recognized Zuckerman Law Principal Jason Zuckerman as a Top Lawyer in the category of employment law.

Click here to see our video resources about anti-discrimination laws and click here to read client reviews.

In 2017 and 2018, Washingtonian magazine named two of our lawyers top whistleblower lawyers.

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Resources About Virginia Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Retaliation Laws

 

Jason Zuckerman, Principal of Zuckerman Law, litigates whistleblower retaliation, qui tam, wrongful discharge, and other employment-related claims. He is rated 10 out of 10 by Avvo, was recognized by Washingtonian magazine as a “Top Whistleblower Lawyer” in 2015 and selected by his peers to be included in The Best Lawyers in America® and in SuperLawyers.

Katherine Krems represents employees in discrimination, sexual harassment, and whistleblower retaliation cases. She is focused on finding creative solutions and maximizing her clients’ recoveries. Prior to law school, she worked on policy reforms in Congress to strengthen the rights of workers, women, and marginalized groups.