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Does Virginia law bar discrimination in the workplace?

Does Virginia law bar discrimination in the workplace?

Virginia law bars discrimination in the workplace, but it only creates a private cause of action for discriminatory termination. The Virginia Human Rights Act outlines the state’s law on discrimination in the workplace and creates a cause of action for termination based on membership in a protected class.

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.

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?

The Virginia Human Rights Act (VA HRA) prohibits discrimination based on race; color; religion; national origin; sex; pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; marital status; disability; or age. See Va. Code §§ 2.2-3900 et seq. It applies to places of public accommodation, including educational institutions and in real estate transactions, and it applies to employment. Id.

Under the VA HRA, any conduct that violates any Virginia or federal statute governing discrimination on the basis of race; color; religion; national origin; sex; pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; age; marital status; or disability is an “unlawful discriminatory practice.” Id.

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

The VA HRA only creates a private cause of action when employees are discharged, not when employees are otherwise discriminated against in the workplace. See Va. Code § 2.2-3903. The VA HRA creates a private cause of action when employees are discharged on the basis of race; color; religion; national origin; sex; pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, including lactation; or age. Id. The statute defines lactation as “a condition that may result in the feeding of a child directly from the breast or the expressing of milk from the breast.” Id.

Private causes of action under the VA HRA are limited to those explicitly outlined in the statute. See Doss v. Jamco, Inc., 492 S.E.2d 441 (Va. 1997).

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

Employers with between 6 and 14 employees are covered by the Act and prohibited from terminating employees on the basis of race; color; religion; national origin; sex; or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Id. Employers with between 6 and 19 employees are prohibited from discharging employees on the basis of age where the employee is 40 years old or over. Id.

The Virginians with Disabilities Act, Va. Code § 51.5 et seq., covers employers with fewer than 15 employees, and the Americans with Disabilities Act covers those with 15 or more employees. While the VA HRA prohibits discrimination based on disability, the VDA and ADA provide more comprehensive protections, 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 discriminatory termination?

An employee may file a claim in a general district or circuit court that has jurisdiction over the employer. Va. Code § 2.2-3903.

What is the statute of limitations for filing a claim of discriminatory termination?

The statute of limitations to file in district or circuit court is 300 days from the date the employee was discharged. Id. The employee also has 300 days to file a complaint with the Virginia Division of Human Rights or another local human rights agency or commission. Id. If the employee has filed with a local human rights agency or commission, she may file a complaint in court within 90 days of the agency or commission’s final decision. Id.

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

An employee who prevails on a claim under the VA HRA may collect up to 12 months’ back pay with interest, as well as attorneys’ fees not exceeding 25 percent of the back pay awarded. Id. An employee may not collect other compensatory or punitive damages under the VA HRA, and reinstatement is not a remedy. Id.

What amendments to the VA HRA have been introduced in the 2020 legislative session?

Amendments to the VA HRA have been introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates in the 2020 session. Amendments have been introduced in the House and Senate.

House Bill No. 1200, introduced by Delegate Tran, would amend the VA HRA to cover all employers. Her proposed amendments would create a private cause of action for any workplace discrimination on the basis of being a member of a protected class, instead of only for discriminatory termination. They also provide that a court may award a prevailing employee up to $25,000 in punitive or compensatory damages. For an employee who prevails on a wrongful discharge claim, the court may award either 12 months’ back pay with interest or $25,000, whichever is greater.

Senate Bill No. 50, introduced by Senator Spruill, Sr., would amend the VA HRA’s definition section to define discrimination based on race as including discrimination based on traits “historically associated with race,” including “hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.”

What other discrimination is prohibited in the workplace in Virginia?

The Virginia Boards of Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Social Services, and Medical Assistance Services and the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services are required to review their regulations and policies to ensure they do not discriminate against individuals infected with HIV. Va. Code § 2.2-214.

Employees working for government contractors and public workers are also protected from discrimination under the VA HRA. Va. Code §§ 2.2-4200-01.

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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.

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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.