Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is discrimination?
A. Discrimination is the arbitrary difference in treatment of a person, including harassment, based on that person's "protected class" - that is, his/her race, color, gender, disability status, religion, ancestry, national origin, marital status, age, or sexual orientation.
Q. Are there other Human Rights Offices in the area who may be able to help me?
A. Yes. The Fairfax County Human Rights Commission can be reached at 703-324-2953; the Arlington County Human Rights Commission can be reached at 703-228-3929; the Prince William County Human Rights Commission can be reached at 703-792-4680. In addition to having jurisdiction over complaints arising in their jurisdictions, all are also under contract with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to receive and investigate complaints brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities
Q. Where and who can the Office on Human Rights' investigate?
A. The Alexandria Office of Human Rights (Office) has jurisdiction over incidents which take place only within the City of Alexandria. The Office does not have jurisdiction over certain agencies, including federal agencies, state agencies, the U.S. Postal Service, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), elected officials, State of Virginia employees or the Sheriff's Office. If you are unsure if the Office has jurisdiction to investigate your complaint, please contact the Office for guidance and referral.
Q. What laws do the Office of Human Rights enforce?
A. The Office of Human Rights enforces the City's Human Rights Code which prohibits discrimination in employment (including labor unions or employment agencies), housing and commercial real estate (including lending institutions), public accommodations (restaurants, businesses, hotels etc.), health and social services, education, or city contracts, on the basis of race, color, gender, disability status, religion, ancestry, national origin, marital status, familial status, age (40+), or sexual orientation. The Office is also under contract as a Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA) with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to receive and investigate complaints filed under the following federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Q. What can I do to prevent and correct discrimination and harassment?
A. Employers, housing providers and businesses should establish, post in highly visible places, distribute to all employees and agents, and enforce an equal opportunity policy. The policy should affirm the company's commitment to equal opportunity and should state clearly that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. It should also set forth an effective procedure for making complaints. In most cases, the policy and procedure should be in writing.
Small businesses may be able to discharge their responsibility to prevent and correct harassment through less formal means. For example, if a business is sufficiently small that the owner maintains regular contact with all employees, the owner can tell the employees at staff meetings that harassment is prohibited, that employees should report such conduct promptly, and that a complaint can be brought "straight to the top." If the business conducts a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of any complaint that arises and undertakes swift and appropriate corrective action, it will have fulfilled its responsibility to "effectively prevent and correct harassment."
Familiarize yourself with local, state, and/or federal laws and regulations which prohibit discrimination. If you have questions, contact The Office on Human Rights. We would be glad to offer you any guidance and/or information we have on discrimination laws.
Q. What should an anti-discrimination/harassment policy say?
A. An anti-discrimination/harassment policy should make clear that discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, familial status, sexual orientation, disability or marital status will not be tolerated. The policy should also state that retaliation against anyone who complains of harassment or who participates in an investigation will not be tolerated.
Q. What are important elements of a complaint procedure?
A. The procedure should encourage individuals to report discrimination/harassment to management before it becomes severe or pervasive.
More than one individual should be designated to take complaints, and should ensure that these individuals are in accessible locations. Supervisors should be instructed to immediately report complaints of harassment to appropriate officials.
The confidentiality of complaints should be protected to the extent possible.
Q. What entities are covered by the Human Rights Code?
Employers having four or more employees are covered under the Human Rights Code. Employers having fifteen or more employees are covered under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers having twenty or more employees are covered under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Any building or structure occupied, or intended for occupancy, as a residence by one or more families and any vacant land which is offered for sale or lease.
Commercial Real Estate
Land or any improvement of land, or an interest in land that is offered for sale or lease and that is being utilized by a commercial or industrial use under the City of Alexandria's Zoning Ordinance.
Any business, professional or commercial enterprise, refreshment, entertainment, sports, recreation or transportation facility in the city, whether licensed or not, public or private, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations are extended, offered, sold or otherwise made available in any manner to the general public.
Health and Social Services
Includes, but is not limited to, any hospital, clinic, dispensary, nursing home, convalescent home, rehabilitation center, social work agency, community service center, group work-recreation center, counseling and guidance services agency, day camp or resident camp, protective service organization or facility. Exemptions may include religious centers or services.
Any contract of over $10,000, except any contract for the sale, purchase, or rental of land, to which the city is a party.
Any lending institution practicing the granting of rights to defer payment of debt, or to incur debt and defer its payment.
Any nursery, day care center, kindergarten, elementary or secondary school, academy, college, university, extension course or nursing, secretarial, business, vocational, technical, trade, or professional school or joint apprenticeship program. Exemptions may be made in certain cases, for example, exclusivity in gender.
Q. How do I know if I have been the victim of discrimination?
A. Discrimination is often very subtle and difficult to distinguish from other forms of conduct not covered under anti-discrimination laws. Often times, there is no "direct evidence" of a discriminatory act. A Human Rights Investigator will listen to your concerns and give you guidance as to whether or not there appears to have been a violation of the law and if there is sufficient evidence to file a formal complaint of discrimination.
Q. Do any of these laws protect me from retaliation?
A. Yes. It is illegal to retaliate (to take any adverse action) against an individual because she/he has filed a complaint, objected to discriminatory practices, or participated in an investigation. If you believe you have been retaliated against, you can file a claim of retaliation with the Office. Retaliation claims will be investigated as a new or separate claim.
Q. How do I file a complaint of discrimination?
A. If you believe someone has discriminated against you in any of the areas protected by the laws we enforce, you or your representative may contact the Office by telephone, in person, or in writing. If you contact us in writing, please include your name, address, and a telephone number where you can be reached during the day. A Human Rights Investigator will conduct a detailed interview with you, answer your questions and advise you regarding the filing of a complaint of discrimination or offer you other alternatives, as appropriate, to address your concerns. If circumstance permits, the investigator will prepare a complaint of discrimination which you will be asked to sign under oath or affirmation in front of a notary public, which will then be served on the respondent (the company that you are alleging engaged in a discriminatory manner).
Q. Are there any time limits?
A. Yes, there are very strict time frames in which charges of discrimination must be filed. It is best to contact the Office promptly when discrimination is suspected. Based on recent Virginia Court decisions, we strongly advise you to file your complaint within 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act. When charges or complaints are filed beyond mandatory time frames, you may not be able to obtain any remedy. To protect your right to file a private lawsuit under the following federal laws (Title VII, the ADEA or the ADA), should you ultimately decide to, adhere to the following guidelines when filing a charge.
Title VII, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) AgeDiscrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): Complaint must be filed within 300 days from the date of the last alleged discriminatory act.
Human Rights Code: Complaints filed under the Human Rights Code must be filed within 300 days from the date of the last alleged discriminatory act, with the exception of housing cases, which must be filed within 365 days from the date of the last alleged discriminatory act.
Q. How long will the process take?
A. The length of time it takes to investigate a complaint varies depending on the factors in the case as well as how cooperative each party is during the investigation. Usually the process will take several months to complete, particulary if no settlements can be agreed upon.
Q. Where do I go if I have been sexually harassed or assaulted?
A. If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed, contact the Office on Human Rights. Sexual harassment is sex discrimination and is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and the Human Rights Code. If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed, the Alexandria Office on Women's Sexual Assault Response and Awareness (SARA) Program has 24 hour crisis intervention and support available(24 hour hotline at 703-703-6838-7273(V/TTY). All SARA services are strictly confidential.
Q. What remedies are available to me if it is found that I have been the victim of discrimination?
A. The "relief" or remedies available for employment discrimination charges brought under applicable federal laws, whether caused by intentional acts or by practices that have a discriminatory effect, may include:
· back pay
· front pay
· reasonable accommodation, or
· other actions that will make an individual "whole" (in the condition s/he would have been but for the discrimination).
Remedies also may include payment of:
· attorneys' fees
· expert witness fees, and
· court costs.
Under most EEOC-enforced laws, compensatory and punitive damages also may be available where intentional discrimination is found. Damages may be available to compensate for actual monetary losses, for future monetary losses, and for mental anguish and inconvenience. Punitive damages also may be available if an employer acted with malice or reckless indifference. Punitive damages are not available against state or local governments.
The relief offered under The Human Rights Code depends on the findings of the Human Rights Commission at public hearing. The Commission can recommend compensatory damages and punitive damages appropriate for the violation that occurred.
Q. Are accommodations available?
A. Yes. Individuals who need an accommodation in order to file a charge or take part in the investigative process (e.g., sign language interpreter, print materials in an accessible format) should inform the Office at least 72 hours in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made.
Q. Is there additional information available on the Web which will help me understand my rights as an employer, business, or housing provider?
A. Yes. There are a number of Web sites which contain useful information, some of which has been included here. For additional information on preventing and responding to employment complaints, please go to the "Quick Start-Employers" section of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Web Page for information on discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services provided by state and local governments, goods and services provided by private companies, and in commercial facilities, please see the Department of Justices's ADA home page; for Department of Labor questions please see the Virginia Department of Labor's home page.