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Unlawful Discrimination Under the Virginia Human Rights Act

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In order to preserve public health and safety as well as safeguard general welfare, the  Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits unlawful discrimination practices. Mirroring U.S. laws at the federal level, the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibits discrimination on the basis of membership in a protected class.

What is the Purpose of the Virginia Human Rights Act?

The Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • National origin;
  • Sex;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Childbirth or related medical conditions;
  • Age;
  • Marital status; or
  • Disability.

The Virginia Human Rights Acts applies in a variety of contexts, including:

  • Places of public accommodation;
  • Education institutions;
  • Real estate transactions; and
  • Employment decisions.

Does the Virginia Human Rights Act Apply to All Employers?

The Virginia Human Rights Act only applies to certain employers operating within the commonwealth. Specifically, employers with six to 14 employees cannot discharge on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, including lactation.

For employers with 15 or more employees, that is the threshold for federal discrimination laws. Employers of that size in any U.S. state must comply with the Equal Opportunity Employment Act (EEO), which prohibits adverse employment actions on the basis of membership in a protected class.

Moreover, the Virginia Human Rights Acts prevents employers with six to 19 employees from discharging anyone on the basis of age. That being said, this prohibition only applies if the employee in question is at least 40 years old.

For employers with 20 or more employees, that is the threshold for federal age discrimination laws. Employers of that size in any U.S. state must comply with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits adverse employment actions against employees who are at least 40 years old.

When Must an Employee File their Claim of Unlawful Discrimination?

In most cases, an employee must file a claim of unlawful discrimination within 300 days after discharge or termination. The employee can file their claim in any general district or circuit court that has jurisdiction over the employer in question.

However, there are certain cases that feature an alternate timeline. In order to qualify, the employee must first file a complaint with the Division of Human Rights of the Department of Law or a similar agency or commission within 300 days after discharge or termination. If the employee receives a final decision on their complaint, then they have 90 days to file a claim with a general district or circuit court.

What are the Damages Available for Unlawful Discrimination?

In most cases, a successful claim of unlawful discrimination enables the courts to award up to 12 months of back pay, including interest calculated pursuant to Code of Virginia Section 6.2-302. Additionally, if the employee prevails, the court will also award attorneys’ fees as part of the judgment. Though the attorneys’ fees cannot exceed 25 percent of the back pay awarded.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you have legal questions about unlawful discrimination under the Virginia Human Rights Act, it is beneficial to reach out to a skilled employment attorney. The attorneys at Simms Showers LLP, servicing Leesburg, Winchester, Fairfax, and Manassas, feature established skill and aptitude in the field of employment law, including unlawful discrimination. If you need legal help in this arena, contact us today for an initial consultation.

Resource:

law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodepopularnames/virginia-human-rights-act/

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