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 Tennessee employment discrimination. The purpose of the Tennessee Human Rights Act is to protect workers in Tennessee from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Tennessee employment law and how the law protects you.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Tennessee?
The Tennessee Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, disability, color, religion, sex, age or national origin. The Tennessee Disability Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of physical, mental or visual disability.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Tennessee?
A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC), 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 Tennessee anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 8 and 14 employees, you should file with the THRC, as the EEOC enforces federal law, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency. Additionally, the Tennessee Disability Act, which prohibits disability discrimination, applies to all employers in Tennessee, regardless of the number of employees.
To file a claim with the THRC, contact your closest office below. More information about filing a claim with the THRC can be found at the THRC website.
General Information Statewide Phone: 800-251-3589
Phone: (615) 741-5825
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your closest 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 Memphis District Office
EEOC’s Nashville Area 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?
In order to preserve one’s rights under state law, you can, but it is not required to, file a claim of discrimination with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed with the THRC or EEOC. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the THRC within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC 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.
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 Tennessee?
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 THRC 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 state law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages but does not provide for the punitive damages (intended to punish the employer), damages that are allowed under federal law, many Tennessee attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court using federal and state law. However, most cases may be filed in either state or federal court. A case filed in state court using federal law may be subject to removal, which means that a defendant employer requests to move the case to federal court because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
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 upon your state discrimination claim must be filed within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against (an investigation by the THRC does not delay this deadline). These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.”
If you have received one of these EEOC notices, 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.