A person who claims to have been discriminated against in violation of the Washington State Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60) may personally or by his or her attorney file a complaint with the Commission.
Complaints must be filed within six (6) months after the date of the alleged discrimination. Complaints of housing discrimination must be filed within one (1) year of the date of alleged discrimination.
Through its investigators, the Commission seeks to gather facts to make an impartial finding of “no reasonable cause” or “reasonable cause.” The Commission does not represent the person filing the complaint (complainant) or favor the person(s) the complaint is filed against (respondent). If the Commission finds “reasonable cause”, its objective is to obtain a solution that best eliminates unfair practices and prevents their reoccurrence. The Commission’s central task is to prevent and eliminate discrimination in Washington State. The Commission assumes that persons who bring complaints before it are also interested in eliminating and preventing discrimination in general. If a person is interested solely in seeking relief for himself or herself, they may wish to pursue a private action in court.
For a general overview of the Commission’s complaint process, click here to go the Complaint Process page.
No, you are not required to have an attorney to file a complaint with the Commission. Because the Commission cannot give you legal advice, you are always free to consult an attorney for advice and assistance during an investigation.
The Commission strives to conduct prompt impartial investigations within six months of complaint filings. If complaints are complex or are scheduled for an administrative hearing, they can take longer to resolve.
The complainant is contacted within 45 days of filing their charge by the investigator assigned to the case for an “initial complainant interview.” At that time, the investigator will gather information from the complainant such as name and contact information for relevant witnesses and other information that supports the charge of discrimination.
The investigator will contact the person or company that the complaint was filed against for a written response. When that written response is received, the complainant will be contacted by the investigator for an opportunity to tell their side of the story.
As a neutral fact finder, the investigator will gather information from both sides and evaluate all available evidence. After the investigation is concluded, the investigator’s recommended finding is prepared in writing. The finding is forwarded to the Clerk of the Commission for final action by the Commissioners of the Washington State Human Rights Commission.
You can start by gathering an accurate record of dates, times, and other significant events to help your case. If issues are ongoing; keep a journal and record things as they happen. In order to prove discrimination, the evidence must show by preponderance (most credible and convincing) that your alleged harm (retaliation, termination of employment, eviction from your apartment, etc.) is because of your protected class (disability, sex, race, etc.).
To help prove your case, you can think about questions such as the following. Are you sure that you were treated badly because of your protected class or was everyone else treated the same way that you were? If you were employed do you have documented work performance issues were the reasons that you were demoted, reprimanded, terminated, or received some other negative employment action?
You should have a list of your witnesses and contact information to give to the investigator assigned to your case. It’s more important to have two credible witnesses who actually witnessed discriminatory actions or comments that would support your charge of discrimination instead of five witnesses who can give you a good character reference or who do not know specific details about your situation. That’s why it’s important to tell the investigator what your witnesses know and how they will help your case.
After the investigation is completed, the investigator issues a recommended finding. A District Manager reviews the finding and signs the final recommendation. The case file is forwarded to the Clerk of the Commission who assures that the Human Rights Commissioners receive copies of final recommended findings. The Commissioners vote to adopt recommended findings or to set aside findings at their monthly Commission meetings.
A no reasonable cause finding means that based on the preponderance (most credible and convincing) evidence, the facts of the case do not support a finding of discrimination. This does not, however, mean that the complainant was not discriminated against. In the area of discrimination, the burden is on the complainant to show that there was discrimination. Sometimes, based on the facts, we are unable to link the bad act (termination, eviction, demotion, etc.,) to a protected class.
Depending on the finding, complainants or respondents can request reconsideration of investigative findings. The requests must be submitted timely to the Clerk of the Commission (15 calendar days from the date of the notice of Commission action). The request is reviewed to determine whether it meets criteria for reconsideration. An Equal Opportunity Compliance Specialist makes a recommendation to deny or grant the reconsideration. The Commissioners make the final decision whether to reopen a case for further investigation. If a request does not meet criteria, it does not go before the Commissioners and the case remains closed with no further action by the Commission.
A finding of no reasonable cause, or any other finding, does not prevent a complainant from pursuing private litigation in a court of law. For advice, a complainant can consult a private attorney to discuss statute of limitation issues or and available legal rights.
While an investigation is ongoing, the only item in the file that is available for public inspection and copying is the notarized complaint. Once a finding is issued and the complaint file is closed, the entire file becomes a public record, subject to public inspection and copying as required by RCW 42.56. When a public records request for a copy of a case file is received, the Clerk of the Commission reviews the file and withholds only information that is exempt from public disclosure under the law. The Commission cannot deny a request for copies of public records based on who asks for the information. What’s provided to one person is provided to anyone else from the public who asks for the information.
Make sure that you have policies and procedures in place. However, just having those policies and procedures is not enough. Make sure that each employee is informed of the policies and procedures from the start. Document that employees received a copy and understand them. Consistently enforce the policies and procedures. If for example, you do not have progressive discipline policy for employees, you may wish to implement one.
If you become aware of discriminatory behavior in your place of business, act promptly! Investigate allegations and document any action taken.