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Legal Insider: Where to File a Discrimination or Harassment Complaint in Virginia

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement, and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Private, federal and other public sector employees in Virginia have a number of options for filing a complaint of discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation and/or an ongoing hostile work environment. The proper venue for filing the complaint depends on a number of factors, including type of employee, type of discrimination, type of employer and employee’s place of residence. When considering filing a complaint, it is generally wise to consult with an attorney given the complexities in the complaint process.

Federal Employees in Virginia

For federal employees in Virginia, the usual method of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint is to go through their federal agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the date of discrimination. This short deadline can usually be accomplished by contacting the relevant federal EEO counselor directly. The formal complaint process will follow later. There are also other, less common, routes for filing a federal employee discrimination/harassment complaint, such as filing a grievance and/or a complaint though the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), but these are usually not effective when compared to a federal employee’s options at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Private Sector Employees in Virginia

For private sector employees in Virginia, there are a number of potential options for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint depending on where they live and the size of their employer. A private sector employee employed by a company with 15 employees or more may file a complaint with the EEOC, which is the most common complaint process. The deadline for filing a complaint in Virginia is generally 180 days but can be extended to 300 days, because of a work-sharing agreement between Virginia and the EEOC.

In addition, private sector employees can also file a discrimination/harassment complaint with the Virginia Division of Human Rights (DHR) if their employer has 6 to 14 employees, but less than 15 (except for age discrimination claims, when coverage extends to companies that have between 6 to 20 employees). A private sector employee who works for a federal government contractor can also file a complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), but this complaint process is less commonly used. Lastly, some counties and municipalities in Virginia have enacted discrimination/harassment ordinances such as Fairfax and Arlington, which also have procedures for filing complaints. The deadlines can vary for county filings, between 180 and 365 days, depending on county. In sum, it is important to figure out the correct forum and to file a claim well in advance of any deadlines.

Public Sector Employees in Virginia

State employees in Virginia have somewhat different discrimination/harassment complaint options. These include filing a complaint with the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Services (OEES) or the EEOC. These rules have been in flux given that they were provided by Executive Order, which have not been renewed in the past but are currently in effect.

County and Municipal Employees in Virginia

Finally, county and municipal employees in Virginia have options for filing a discrimination complaint as well. They may generally file discrimination/harassment complaints with the EEOC, or if covered by their county or municipality, a local claim. By far, the majority of county employees take their cases to the EEOC and then to the court system, if the matter is not resolved.

Overall Concerns

It is important to consult with an attorney given the complex nature of the discrimination/harassment complaint process and multiple forums since timelines for filing complaints vary on circumstance, location, size and nature of the employer.

If you need assistance with an employment discrimination issue in Virginia, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

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