Washington, DC City Overview

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Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is a 68.3 square mile jurisdiction located between Maryland and Virginia. Created by the Residence Act of 1790, the District is within the jurisdiction of Congress and is not part of any other state. Through the Organic Act of 1801, Congress organized the district and put it under the exclusive control of the federal government. Under federal law, local D.C. laws (that are either passed by referendum or approved by the City Council and the Mayor) are subject to a Congressional veto. A Congressional veto of a D.C. law requires a joint resolution by Congress, which must also be signed by the President. Although Congress has the authority to overrule a D.C. law within 60 days, it has only exercised that authority 4 times.

With an estimated population of over 646,000 as of 2013, Washington D.C. is the United States’ 24th most populous location. When you take the rest of the Washington Metropolitan Area into consideration, D.C. is the 7th largest metropolitan area in the United States. Because of the population and commercial growth in the area, the Washington Metropolitan Area’s gross product increased to over $425 billion in 2010, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan economy in the United States.

As the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. is home to all three branches of the federal government, including the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the federal government employs a wide variety of people in D.C., from administrative agency employees and other executive branch agents, to congressional staffers and court personnel. In 2012, the federal government employed over 159,100 people in the District of Columbia, which amounted to about 29% of all of the jobs in the District.[1]

Fortunately, federal government employees, as well as employees of federal contractors, are protected under federal law from certain unfair employment conduct. If you or someone you know works for the federal government, or one of its contractors, and believes that he or she has suffered from unlawful employment conduct, we encourage you to visit our Federal Worker practice area page and our Federal Whistleblower practice area page to learn about your legal rights.

Discrimination and Unlawful Employment Practices

Just like other communities across the United States, D.C. workers sometimes are victimized by discrimination and other unlawful employment practices. The District of Columbia government responded to this problem with the enactment of the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977. The 1977 Act is aimed at ending discrimination in the District on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, familial status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income, and place of residence or business.” The D.C. Office of Human Rights was created pursuant to the D.C. Human Rights Act to enforce anti-discrimination laws locally and has broader coverage than federal anti-discrimination laws. Because the D.C. Office of Human Rights processes all claims that occur within the boundaries of the District of Columbia, it is applicable both to employees and residents who are discriminated against in the District. The D.C. Office of Human Rights is a Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA), which means that it also may cooperate with the EEOC in enforcing anti-discrimination laws in the District. Unlawful employment discrimination in D.C. may be reported to the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which may be contacted by phone at 202.727.4559 or by mail at 441 4th Street, NW, Suite 570 North, Washington, D.C. 20001. The office has forms for submitting complaints in both English and Spanish.

DC Office of Human Rights

The D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates complaints of unlawful employment discrimination through a six-step process. (1) The first step is intake. At this stage, the complainant submits a complaint against a supervisor or employer for violating local or federal employment law. The Office of Human Rights ensures that the complaint has been properly filed, and then notifies all parties involved in the complaint. (2) The second step involves mandatory mediation. Although not all state FEPAs require alternative dispute resolution, the D.C. Office of Human Rights requires mediation of all complaints. The mediation process usually occurs about 45 days after the filing of the initial complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights. During mediation, the Complainant and the Respondent have an opportunity to resolve their disputes between themselves without further administrative or judicial involvement. If mediation is successful, the case processing time may be reduced by up to 180 days, and may significantly reduce the cost of litigation. All mediations are confidential, and no part of it may be used in later litigation of the complaint. (3) During the third step, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates the complaint. The investigation may range from a review of documents and witness affidavits, to on-site interviews and analysis of evidence. Depending on the scope of the investigation, this may take up to five months or more. (4) The fourth step involves the Office of Human Rights reviewing and analyzing the complaint. At this stage, the office applies the law to the facts of the case. (5) At the fifth step, the D.C. Office of Human Rights makes a determination and conclusion regarding the merits of the complaint. The director then approves and issues to the parties a final “Letter of Determination.”(6) At the sixth and final stage of the process, each party has a right to appeal the Office’s determination within 15 days of receipt of the director’s “Letter of Determination.”[2]

If the Office of Human Rights finds probable cause that discrimination occurred, it certifies the case to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights. The D.C. Commission on Human Rights provides a secondary, independent review of the case. The secondary review includes an evidentiary hearing that is conducted in a trial-like setting before an administrative law judge or a panel of three commissioners. Hearings are held from the beginning (“de novo”), and parties have access to discovery and motion practices. Each party may submit documentary evidence, and can present testimony by witnesses (who are also subject to cross-examination). All hearings before the D.C. Commission on Human Rights are public and recorded by a court reporter. If the D.C. Commission on Human Rights determines that any discrimination occurred, remedies may be available for the complainant. Possible remedies include injunctive relief, compensatory damages, back pay, front pay, and attorney’s fees.” Final determinations by the D.C. Commission on Human Rights may be appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals (430 E St NW, Washington, D.C. 20001).[3] The hearings before the D.C. Commission on Human Rights operate under the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act and the Commission’s Rules of Procedure for Contested Cases.

Use of the EEOC

Complaints before the EEOC, as opposed to the D.C. Human Rights Commission, can sometimes be handled differently. For instance, the EEOC does not use the same internal administrative processes that FEPAs often use. Instead, when the EEOC decides it will not prosecute a claim of discrimination, it issues the complainant a “Notice of Right-to-Sue,” which authorizes the complainant to bring a case in court against the supervisor or employer within 90 days. The differences between the two agencies offer different advantages, depending on the nature of the specific case. These differences sometimes make it more expeditious to file a claim with the D.C. Commission on Human Rights before filing it with the EEOC.

Another factor to consider when filing a complaint is the source of law. Some federal laws, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, require that complainants first file a charge with the EEOC before proceeding to court. Other statutes, like the Equal Pay Act, permit complainants to file in court without first filing a complaint with the EEOC. Similarly, age discrimination cases can be brought in court as early as 60 days after a complaint is filed with the EEOC; a complainant need not wait for a “Right-to-Sue” letter from the EEOC before filing a case in court.

Whether you are filing a charge with the D.C. Office of Human Rights (441 4th Street NW, Suite 570 North, Washington, D.C. 20001) or the Washington EEOC field office (131 M Street, N.E.,
Fourth Floor, Suite 4NWO2F,
Washington, D.C. 20507-0100), we encourage you to learn about your legal rights. Experienced attorneys at the Spiggle Law Firm can help you understand your rights and your options. Our employment lawyers join employees across the Washington Metropolitan Area in standing up to unlawful employment conduct. Our lawyers have seen the emotional, financial, and physical pain that illegal employment practices cause, and we strive to help all of our clients get the remedy and the respect that they deserve. If you think you or someone you know has been hurt by an unlawful employment practice, please visit our practice area pages to learn about your rights and how the Spiggle Law Firm can help you. Our practice area pages include sections on Age DiscriminationDisability Discrimination, Wrongful Discharge, Family Responsibility Discrimination, Emotional Distress, Hostile Work Environments, Sexual Harassment, Family Medical Leave Discrimination, and other types of discrimination. To discuss any of these issues, or other employment-related problems, call us today.

The Spiggle Law Firm – 202.602.6831

[1] http://www.opm.gov/FAQs/QA.aspx?fid=56538f91-625a-4333-84ba-28b3574b7942&pid=0c0795bd-ae87-4580-b1ec-d98d667628ba

[2] http://ohr.dc.gov/complaints

[3] http://ohr.dc.gov/commission