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Washington State Law Against Discrimination

Established in 1949, the Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC) enforces the Washington State Law Against Discrimination.

RCW Chapter 49.60 is a State law that protects all people in Washington from unfair and discriminatory practices in employment, real estate transactions, public accommodations, credit, insurance, as well as health care whistleblower, and state employee whistleblower complaints. If you want to know your federally guaranteed employment rights, please visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

What are the WSHRC's jurisdictional criteria?

  • Employer has at least 8 employees (does not include religious organizations).
  • Signed complaints need to be filed within 6 months of last date of alleged discrimination.

What are prohibited employment practices?

Under the law, if it is because of a person’s race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status, age (40+), disability, retaliation, sexual orientation/gender identity, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability:

  • An EMPLOYER may not: (1) refuse to hire a person, (2) discharge or bar a person from a job, (3) discriminate in compensation or other terms or conditions of employment, (4) print, circulate, or use any discriminatory statement, advertisement, publication, job application form, or make any inquiry in connection with prospective employment that is discriminatory.
  • EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES may not: (1) discriminate in classification or referrals for employment, (2) print or circulate any discriminatory statement, advertisement, or publication, or (3) use discriminatory employment application forms, or inquiries made in connection with prospective employment.

Who is protected from employment discrimination?

The law prohibits unfair employment practices because of a person’s:

  • Opposition to a discriminatory practice
  • Presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability
  • Use of a trained dog guide or service animal
  • HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C Status
  • Race/Color
  • Creed
  • National Origin
  • Sex (including pregnancy)
  • Marital Status
  • Age (40+)
  • Sexual Orientation, including Gender Identity
  • Honorably discharged Veteran or Military Status
  • State Employee or Health Care Whistleblower Status

How are complaints filed?

  • Intake call or in-person interview: Goes to the Intake Unit to determine jurisdiction, followed by an intake questionnaire if in the WSHRC ’s jurisdiction.
  • Print out and send in online intake questionaire
  • Intake questionaire must be received by WSHRC within six months of alleged discriminatory action.
  • You may receive a written charge to sign and return to WSHRC.
  • Complaint assigned to investigator.

When an employer receives notice of a complaint what is its responsibility?

  • Send a written response to the charge within 15 days.
  • Give its position on the alleged unfair action(s).
  • Provide relevant documentation.
  • Provide witness names and contact information.

How is the investigation conducted?

  • The WSHRC is a neutral fact-finder – we do not take sides during an investigation. An investigator is assigned to gather evidence to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of law has occurred. They may interview witnesses and review documents and records.
  • The WSHRC also uses and encourages alternate dispute resolution.

Who has the burden of proof?

  • The complainant must provide information that shows a prima facia case of discrimination.
  • The respondent can provide non-discriminatory reasons for what happened.
  • The burden then shifts to the complainant to provide additional information to connect the harm to the protected class.
  • For a reasonable cause finding, a preponderance of evidence must show that discrimination occured.

When an investigation is complete what happens?

  • The WSHRC staff makes a recommendation to the Commissioners.
  • If the WSHRC finds no discrimination (no reasonable cause), both parties are contacted with that finding.
  • If the WSHRC finds that illegal discrimination has occurred (reasonable cause), we first try to bring about a voluntary agreement with the parties to resolve the issues. If these efforts fail, we will consider taking the complaint to a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJs can impose substantial penalties.

It is against the law to retaliate?

The law prohibits taking retaliatory, adverse action against:

  • A person who has filed a complaint.
  • A person who has participated in an investigation.
  • A person who has opposed any practice forbidden by the Law Against Discrimination.

Does the WSHRC respond to inquiries?

  • Yes. The WSHRC responds to questions about RCW 49.60 from the public, employers, housing providers, and other institutions.

Does the WSHRC provide education and training programs?

  • The WSHRC has a proactive education and training program geared towards eliminating and preventing discrimination.
  • Training is provided to the “Respondent” community (employers, landlords, shop owners, etc.) who are interested in understanding and complying with the law.

What is the cost for training?

  • The WSHRC conducts free educational and training seminars throughout the State on RCW 49.60.

The Law / WACs

You can access and search through state laws (including RCW 49.60, the Law
Against Discrimination), rules, and rulemaking efforts at the website of the State Code Reviser

The rules of the Commission are found in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) at Chapter 162. Some commonly requested titles within WAC Chapter 162 include:

  • WAC 162-12 Pre-Employment Inquiries Guide
  • WAC 162-16 Employment
  • WAC 162-22 Employment and Disability Discrimination
  • WAC 162-26 Public Accommodations and Disability Discrimination
  • WAC 162-30 Sex Discrimination (including pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy related conditions)
  • WAC 162-38 Real Estate Transactions and Disability Discrimination