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Investigative Process

RCW Requirements

Under RCW 49.60, the Washington Law Against Discrimination, the Washington State Human Rights Commission is required to investigate and resolve all complaints that are within our jurisdiction and are timely filed.  There are substantial internal controls to prevent treatment of frivolous matters and to ensure best business practices, including due process for the parties involved.  Our investigative process is neutral and objective.  We are advocates for the law, rather than any party.  The WSHRC has been in existence since 1949, one of the oldest human rights agencies in the country.  The Executive Director and Deputy Director together have over 60 years experience in the civil rights field.

Intake Process

All incoming complaints go through an intake process staffed by professional customer service representatives and civil rights investigators, and overseen by an experienced manager.  Many potential complaints are turned away as not being timely, not being in our jurisdiction, not alleging an incident which if true would violate the Washington Law Against Discrimination, or are not filed by a person with standing.

Assignment to Investigators

After intake, complaints are assigned to an investigative unit, staffed by professional, experienced investigators.  Many are law school graduates.  Almost all of our investigators have college degrees, and a number have advanced degrees.  We have detailed training and procedure manuals, and provide periodic training to investigators. 

How the Investigation is Conducted

The complainant and respondent are interviewed, witnesses are interviewed, the site where the alleged discrimination took place is often visited, documents are requested from the respondent, the respondent’s policies and procedures are reviewed, and statistics are collected about similarly situated people to the complainant.  The complainant and the respondent are given an opportunity to make their case, defense, and rebuttal.  The parties may be represented by counsel. 

Standard of Proof

The investigator analyzes and weighs all the material and relevant evidence according to a preponderance of the evidence standard, and reviews the relevant regulatory and case law.  Whichever side has the majority of the material and relevant evidence, prevails.  If there is any doubt, the investigator has available three levels of supervisory review, and the services of the Attorney General’s office.  Experts in other agencies and academia may also be consulted.  Discrimination is not just a matter of perception, but is a real, not hypothetical or theoretical, substantial harm prohibited by law.     

Types of Findings

The investigator recommends a finding to his/her supervisor.  These findings may be “no reasonable cause” to believe discrimination occurred; “reasonable cause;” and administrative closure.  This recommendation is reviewed by two levels of supervision for “no reasonable cause” findings, and three levels for “reasonable cause.” 

Review Process

“No reasonable cause” cases go before five Commissioners appointed by the Governor for approval for closure.  There is a reconsideration procedure available for complainants to appeal the dismissal of their cases, in case material facts or law were overlooked or misapplied.  Complainants can appear in person before the Commissioners.  Commissioners can change the findings, and send the case back to the investigators for more work.

Availability of Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution may be used at any stage of case processing.  We try to use non-adversarial procedures wherever possible.  About 15% of cases settle with some benefit to the complainant.  In only about three to five percent of cases is reasonable cause found.

Attorney General Involvement

We then try to conciliate the finding with the respondent.  We are often successful, obtaining restitution to the complainant, policy changes by the respondent, and training for the respondent.  In those few cases where conciliation fails, we refer the case to the Attorney General’s Office, which tries again to settle the case.  If they fail, the case is referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a hearing.            

Review by Federal Agencies

Our procedures and practices are periodically reviewed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with which we have contracts.  We meet regularly with counterpart agencies in Seattle, King County, and Tacoma. 

Toll free telephone number in Washington State (800) 233-3247