Frequently Asked Questions
11. I’d really rather solve the problem just by talking it out with the other side. Is that possible?
The mission of the Vermont Human Rights Commission is to promote full civil and human rights in Vermont. The Commission protects people from unlawful discrimination in housing, state government employment and public accommodations (i.e. schools, restaurants, stores, businesses, or government offices). We pursue our mission by:
- Enforcing Vermont's anti-discrimination law
- Advancing effective public policies on civil rights
- Mediating disputes
- Educating the public
- Providing information and referrals
The Commission is made up of five Commissioners, appointed by the Governor for 5-year terms. The Commissioners oversee the work of the Commission, make policy decisions, and hear cases of discrimination at monthly meetings. The Commission also has a staff of five: an Executive Director, a Case Manager, and three Civil Rights Investigators. The staff investigates allegations of discrimination, works to settle cases, brings enforcement actions to court, and provides information, referrals, and educational programs to the public on issues of discrimination.
Under Vermont law, you may not be discriminated against in housing, employment or public accommodations based on your membership in a protected category. A few examples of actions that are illegal under the law are:
- A landlord may not refuse to rent an apartment to you because you have minor children.
- A store clerk may not harass you because of your race.
- An employer may not refuse to provide you with a reasonable accommodation for your disability.
Vermont’s anti-discrimination laws protect people from discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, ancestry or place of birth, mental or physical disability, age, and marital status (though the categories apply differently to housing, employment, and public accommodations - see our Jurisdiction page for details). In addition, you may not be denied housing because you have minor children in your family or because you receive public assistance. Vermont’s laws do not protect individuals from discrimination based on criminal record, poor credit rating, or any other category not listed above.
Call us at 802-828-2480, ext. 25, or toll-free at 800-416-2010, ext. 25 (in state only). We’ll talk with you to find out what happened. If the incident you describe states a case of illegal discrimination, and the incident happened within the last year, the Commission may accept a Charge of Discrimination in which you formally make a charge against the party who you believe is discriminating against you. You can also file a complaint in writing by using a complaint form on our How to File a Complaint page. If the incident you describe does not state a possible case of illegal discrimination, or does not fall within our jurisdiction, we will try to refer you to another agency that can help with your problem. If you do not wish to work with the Commission, or if the Commission declines to accept your case, you may file a lawsuit on your own or with the assistance of an attorney. The HRC is, by statute, not a legal services or advocacy organization, though we are able to refer you to such groups.
If you work for an agency of the State of Vermont, call us. If you work for a non-state employer, call the Civil Rights Division of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, which has jurisdiction over private employment cases. You can reach them at 802-828-3657, or toll-free at 888-745-9195. If you are an employee of the Federal Government, you may contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 800-669-4000.
If the Commission accepts your charge, our staff can help you to draft the formal statement of your allegation, which becomes the Charge of Discrimination. You then need to sign the Charge of Discrimination in front of a notary public (you can find a notary in most town or government offices). At that point you become the Charging Party. Once we receive the signed and notarized Charge, we will send it to the person or group you are charging, now called the Respondent. Both you and the Respondent will be asked to provide more information about the situation, including relevant documents. Once all of that information has been received, the case is assigned to an impartial investigator. The investigator interviews both parties and other witnesses to find out what happened. Based on that information, the investigator writes a report analyzing the available evidence and makes a preliminary recommendation as to whether or not, based on that evidence, the Human Rights Commission should find that illegal discrimination occurred. The report goes to the Commissioners, who then hold a hearing, which both parties may attend. Based on their review of the report, the responses of the parties and statements made at the hearing, the Commissioners make a final determination as to whether there is sufficient evidence to show that illegal discrimination occurred. During the investigation, if you decide you no longer wish to pursue the Charge, you may be able to withdraw the Charge with the agreement of the Commission’s Executive Director. Please see the HRC Investigation Flowchart for a brief synopsis of the process and the Guide for Charging and Responding Parties for more detailed information.
Once the investigation is completed, both the Charging Party and the Respondent receive a copy of the investigative report. Both parties have a chance to respond to the report in writing. About a month after the report is sent out, a hearing on the Charge is held in front of the Commissioners. The hearing is not open to the public and it is not a courtroom trial. At the hearing, both parties have a chance to make a brief statement and are then asked questions by the Commissioners. The hearing is not used to present new evidence and the parties are asked to address the Commissioners, not each other. The main purpose of the hearing is to allow the Commissioners to meet the parties and to ask for clarification of the information contained in the investigative report. The hearing lasts about half an hour. Parties are not required to attend the hearing, but are encouraged to do so. Parties may attend by phone if they cannot or do not want to be present in person.
If you are a landlord, a state government employer, the owner or operator of a business, or in some other way provide housing or public accommodations, and someone feels you have acted in a discriminatory manner, a Charge of Discrimination may be filed against you. If the Commission accepts the Charge, you will be sent the Charge, and asked to respond by telling your side of the story, and providing any relevant documents. If you receive a Charge, it does not mean that you have been found guilty of discrimination. It only means that the Commission has agreed to investigate the allegation. During the investigation you will have the chance to provide an impartial investigator with evidence showing that you did not discriminate against the Charging Party. In addition, the Commission will not release your name or acknowledge that a Charge has been filed against you. You will have access to the investigative file throughout the process. If, after the investigation, the Commission determines that illegal discrimination did not occur, the file remains confidential and the Charge is dismissed. If the Commission determines that illegal discrimination did occur, the investigative report and the Commission’s final determination become public documents and you will be asked to engage in settlement negotiations. If there is no settlement after six months, the Commission may decide to take the case to court. Please see the HRC Investigation Flowchart for a brief synopsis of the process and the Guide for Charging and Responding Parties for more detailed information.
Not at all. If you file a Charge, or if a Charge is filed against you, you may have an attorney represent you if you wish, but many Charging Parties and Respondents do not use an attorney.
Absolutely. The Commission encourages settlement and mediation. The Charging Party or the Respondent may make a settlement offer at any time, and the Commission can facilitate an informal settlement process. In addition, if both sides agree to attempt to resolve the dispute through formal mediation, the Commission will provide the services of a professional independent mediator. There is no charge to either party for participation in mediation. Mediation services are confidential, and do not become part of the Commission’s investigation. If the mediation process fails, the Commission will recommence its investigation process. Agreements that come out of an informal settlement process or formal mediation resolve the charge and are enforced by the Commission if the terms of the agreement are later violated. Commission settlements are generally public documents unless both parties agree to keep certain aspects separate and confidential. Please go to our Mediation page for more information.
In some cases, if there is strong evidence that illegal discrimination is ongoing, the Commission may be able to go to court to ask for an order to stop specific conduct or actions, until the investigation is complete. Otherwise, the Commission must act as a neutral third party. The Commission’s role is to determine, based on the Charge, whether or not illegal discrimination occurred. While the investigation is going on, the Commission can’t take sides in the dispute. If, after a hearing, the Commission determines that there is sufficient evidence to show that illegal discrimination did, in fact, occur, then the Commission will endeavor to work with both parties to correct the situation. Also, please note that it is illegal for a person to retaliate against someone for filing a Charge, or against any person for cooperating with an investigation.
If the Commission determines that there is sufficient evidence to show that illegal discrimination occurred, we will actively pursue settlement negotiations. The Commission will, either by itself or through a mediator, attempt to bring the parties to agreement on a settlement to correct the matter. Some past settlements have included agreements not to discriminate in the future, anti-discrimination education, letters of apology, or compensation for damages. If the parties do not come to a settlement agreement within six months, the Commission will review the case, and decide whether or not to take the Respondent to court.
No. The Commission only has legal authority to investigate complaints, negotiate settlements, and to bring action in court. If illegal discrimination is proven to a judge and jury, the court may impose fines or monetary damages against the Respondent.
Yes. You may file a civil suit on your own charging someone with illegal discrimination. You may go to other organizations, such as Vermont Legal Aid or the American Civil Liberties Union, which may be able to assist you. You may also go to support organizations, such as the Vermont Center for Independent Living, for assistance.
Yes. In order to file a charge, you need to sign and notarize a Charge of Discrimination. The Respondent must be notified of your identity to provide him or her a reasonable opportunity to respond to the Charge. However, in some cases you may ask that your name not be identified in public documents, in which case the Commission will assign a pseudonym. In most cases, the Commission will not use the names of minors in any public documents. In addition, the Commission has the authority to bring charges in the public interest, without the participation of an individual Charging Party.
Definitely. The Commission staff frequently provides education and training sessions about certain kinds of discrimination and how to prevent such discrimination (see our Education & Outreach page for more information). If our resources do not permit us to do the training ourselves, we can refer you to other qualified trainers. Just give us a call at 802-828-2480, ext. 25, or toll-free at 800-416-2010, ext. 25 (in state only).