1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Florida?
The Florida Civil Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Florida?
A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR), 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. However, an attorney may advise you to file separately with both agencies because of an existing legal debate over the state and federal administrative processes and how they affect an employee’s ability to file a state claim in court.
The Florida anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law for age discrimination claims only. Therefore, if your workplace has between 15 and 20 employees, you should file your age discrimination claim with the FCHR since the EEOC enforces federal law, which only covers employers with 20 or more employees in age discrimination cases and 15 or more employees in other types of discrimination cases. Otherwise, some attorneys suggest you file with the EEOC first, to best preserve your federal discrimination claim.
To file a claim with the FCHR, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the FCHR can be found at the FCHR website.
Florida Commission on Human Relations
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact the nearest local EEOC office. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC How to File page.
EEOC Miami District Office
EEOC Tampa Field 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?
Do not delay in contacting the FCHR or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the FCHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with 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. 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.
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 Florida?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. You probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims to resolve your case. If your case is not resolved by the FCHR or EEOC and you 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 claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you must file with the FCHR. Note: If the FCHR makes a finding of “no cause,” —a finding that your case is without merit— you are not allowed to go to court under state law; instead, you can only appeal this determination through the administrative process.
Because Florida state law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, many Florida attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal and state law. Punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) are limited or capped at $100,000 under state law, but may be awarded under federal law, subject to limits or caps based on the size of the employer. Most cases may be filed in either state or federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
The EEOC must first issue the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” before you can 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.
After your case has been pending with FCHR for 180 days, you may go ahead and file a lawsuit, as long as the FCHR has not already issued a “no cause” finding in your case. A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within four years of the alleged discriminatory action(s), or one year from the date the FCHR issued a “probable cause” determination in your case.
These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.” If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.