Filing a Discrimination Claim - Oregon
Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Oregon employment discrimination. The purpose of Oregon antidiscrimination law is to protect workers in Oregon from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Oregon employment law and how the law protects you.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Oregon?
Oregon law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (includes gender, pregnancy and sexual harassment), religion, age (18 or older), marital status, physical/mental disability, injury, family relationship, and retaliation on the basis of having opposed an unlawful employment practice. The Oregon law also makes genetic discrimination illegal, preventing an employer from requiring or considering the results of genetic screening or brain wave tests.
The Oregon antidiscrimination law also makes other kinds of employer conduct illegal, such as discrimination on the basis of testifying before the Legislature, giving or using breathalyzer tests. polygraph examinations, and psychological stress tests (with certain exceptions), whistleblowing, and blacklisting. Employers are required to allow employees to attend criminal proceedings when the employee is a crime victim. Employees who leave one place of employment to go to work for a new employer due to the latter's false, deceptive, or misleading advertising or other statements have a civil remedy against the new employer.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Oregon?
A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Civil Rights Division of Oregon's Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI), or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency.
The Oregon anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size (except for discrimination claims based on physical/mental disability or injury, for which the employer must have 6 or more employees). Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you should file with the BOLI, as the EEOC enforces federal law, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. Under federal law you are only allowed to bring a claim for age discrimination over the age of 40, and your company has 20 employees or more, Therefore, if you do not meet these requirements for age discrimination, you should also file with BOLI. Filing with the BOLI is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court, but if you do not have an attorney, you may wish to see whether BOLI can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. BOLI complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
To file a claim with the BOLI, contact the nearest office below. More information about filing a claim with the BOLI can be found at the Civil Rights Division webpage.
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC Filing a Charge page.
EEOC's Seattle District Office
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
If you choose to have an administrative agency assist you, do not delay in contacting the BOLI or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for these agencies to act on your behalf, you must file with the BOLI (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days or the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or “ordinance.” Some cities and counties in Oregon (including Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene) have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” `
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Oregon?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the BOLI or EEOC and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your case. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to file a discrimination claim in court based on state law.
Because the resolution of a state lawsuit tends to be faster, less complicated, and less costly, many Oregon attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court. However, cases may be brought in either state or federal court. Oregon's state anti-discrimination law does not permit the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) for sex, age, race, color, or national origin discrimination that are allowed under federal law. However, some attorneys believe that it is more likely that a judge in federal court will overturn these types of damages if they are awarded to employees.
Once the EEOC issues the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161), only then can you file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) A lawsuit based on your state claim must be filed within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against. If you have filed with BOLI, however, then you have 90 days from the receipt of a “right-to-sue” notice from BOLI to file in court. These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.”
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