You Ask, We Answer...
+ WHAT IS THE FLORIDA COMMISSION ON HUMAN RELATIONS (FCHR)?
A state agency established by the Florida Human Rights Act of 1969 to enforce Florida's anti- discrimination laws. Subsequent laws expanded the authority of the Commission, culminating with the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 and the Florida Fair Housing Act.
+ WHAT IS THE FCHR’S STATUTORY AUTHORITY?
Chapter 760, Part I, and s. 509.092, Florida Statutes – Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 Chapter 760, Part II, Florida Statutes – Florida Fair Housing Act Sections 112.3187- 112.31895, Florida Statutes – Florida Whistle-blower’s Act (state employee retaliation)
+ WHAT AREAS DO FLORIDA’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS COVER?
Employment, housing, certain public accommodations, retaliation against state employee whistle- blowers
+ HOW DOES THE FCHR OFFER PROTECTION TO INDIVIDUALS?
The FCHR accepts complaints from persons who feel they have been discriminated against and investigates the complaints to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred; upon completion of the investigation, the FCHR issues a determination of its findings.
+ What are the bases for employment discrimination and public accommodations?
Race, color, religion, sex/gender, pregnancy, national origin, age (all ages), handicap/disability, marital status. While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) categories are not specifically covered under Florida law, there are circumstances where the FCHR will investigate these claims under the broader sex/gender category if the alleged discrimination occurred because the claimant did not fit within normal gender stereotypes.
+ What are the bases for housing discrimination?
Race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, handicap/disability, familial status
+ Does the FCHR represent either the complainant or the respondent?
No. The FCHR is neutral and fair, and does not represent any of the parties during the course of its investigation. The FCHR acts as an impartial fact-finder and offers the parties an opportunity to mediate.
+ When can a person file a complaint of discrimination?
Employment and public accommodations: Within 365 days of the alleged discriminatory act Housing: Within one (1) year of the alleged discriminatory act Whistle-blower retaliation: Within 60 days of the alleged discriminatory act
+ How will an employer know if a charge has been filed against it?
Once the FCHR receives a signed charge form, it will mail a Notice of Filing of Complaint of Discrimination to the respondent by certified mail.
+ What do I need to do upon receipt of a Notice of Filing of Complaint of Discrimination?
Along with the Notice, there are four forms, Forms A through D. If the respondent determines that it would like to participate in mediation through the FCHR, all four forms should be signed, dated, and returned within 25 days of the date of the Notice. If the respondent does not wish to participate in FCHR’s mediation process, the information requested on Form C should be provided (commonly referred to a position statement), along with a signed and dated copy of Form D within 25 days of the date of the Notice. The investigator assigned to the case will request any additional information that may be needed.
+ What makes a position statement effective?
An effective position statement focuses on the facts. The document should be clear, concise, complete and responsive to explain the employer’s version of the facts while citing to specific evidence, including documents, to support the employer’s position. Once provided, the EEOC or the FCHR will be in a better position to conduct the investigation and request additional information, if necessary.
+ What happens when an investigation is completed?
The investigative findings are submitted to the FCHR General Counsel’s office, which then submits a recommendation and determination to the FCHR Executive Director for approval. The FCHR will then notify the parties of the determination and include instructions on any further steps that can be taken and any remedies available under state discrimination laws.
+ How long does it take for the investigation of a complaint to be timely completed?
The statutory mandate provides that cases will be closed, and the FCHR makes every effort to issue a determination, within the following time-frames:
- Employment and public accommodations: 180 days
- Housing: 100 days
- State employee whistle-blower retaliation: 90 days
+ What happens if a determination is not issued within the statutory time-frames?
In an employment discrimination complaint, if a determination is not issued within 180 days, the complaining party may proceed to court as if a cause determination had been issued. In a whistle- blower retaliation complaint, there is no impact. The complainant must wait until a determination is issued before proceeding on to the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) or an appropriate circuit court.
+ If reasonable cause for discrimination is not found, what rights are available to the complainant?
A complainant with an employment, housing or public accommodation complaint may request a hearing before the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). A complainant with a whistle- blower complaint may file a complaint with the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) or file a complaint in an appropriate circuit court.
+ If reasonable cause for discrimination is found, what remedies are available to the complainant?
A complainant with an employment or public accommodation complaint may request a hearing before the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), or the complainant can file a civil action in an appropriate court. For housing cases, a complainant may elect to have the FCHR represent them at an administrative hearing before DOAH, elect to have the Attorney General represent them at a civil action or may file a civil action on their own without government assistance. A complainant with a whistle-blower retaliation complaint may file a complaint with the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) or file a complaint in an appropriate circuit court.
+ Specifically, what relief may be available?
In a civil action:
- Employment: Court may issue an order prohibiting the discriminatory practice and providing affirmative relief from the effects of the practice, lost wages, actual and other compensatory damages, back pay, and damages for mental anguish, loss of dignity, and any other intangible injuries, reasonable attorney's fees and possibly punitive damages up to $100,000 against the employer.
- Housing: Court may issue an order prohibiting the practice and providing affirmative relief from the effects of the practice, including injunctive and other equitable relief, actual and punitive damages and reasonable attorney's fees and costs
- Public Accommodations: Relief may include civil money damages and punitive damages
- Whistle-Blower: Relief may include reinstatement to the same or an equivalent position or reasonable front pay, reinstatement of full fringe benefits and seniority rights, compensation, if appropriate, for lost wages, benefits, or other last remuneration caused by the adverse action, payment of reasonable costs, including attorney’s fees, and issuance of an injunction
+ What types of entities are subject to Florida’s employment discrimination laws?
Employers who have 15 or more employees; employment agencies, labor organizations, joint labor-management committees. It is an unlawful employment practice for any person to discriminate against any other person seeking a license, certification, or other credential, seeking to become a member or associate of such a club, association or other organization, or seeking to take or pass an examination.
+ What types of entities are subject to Florida’s housing discrimination laws?
Private home seller/renter who owns more than three (3) single-family houses, owner-occupied buildings with fewer than four dwelling units, financial institutions (banks, credit unions, etc.), mortgage brokers, realtors, realty companies and entities offering housing for seniors.
+ There is a local office that accepts and investigates housing discrimination complaints. What is the difference between FCHR and this local office?
The right to equal opportunity in housing is ensured by many laws. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides funding annually to state and local agencies that enforce fair housing laws that HUD has determined to be substantially equivalent to the federal Fair Housing Act. These agencies investigate and enforce complaints of housing discrimination that arise within their jurisdiction. To be eligible for assistance through the Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP), a state or local agency must demonstrate to HUD that it enforces a fair housing law that provides rights, remedies, procedures and the availability of judicial review that are substantially equivalent to the federal Fair Housing Act. In addition to the FCHR, which is the state agency, the following local agencies also participate in the FHAP program:
- Broward County Office of Equal Opportunity
- Jacksonville Human Rights Commission
- Office of Community Affairs - Human Relations Department (Orlando)
- Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity
- Pinellas County Office of Human Rights
- City of Tampa Office of Community Relations
+ What types of public accommodations are subject to Florida’s public accommodations discrimination law?
Places of public accommodation are lodgings, facilities selling food for consumption on the premises, gasoline stations, places of exhibition or entertainment and other covered establishments: • Inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests • Restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises • Any motion picture theater, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment • Any establishment which is physically located within the premises of an establishment covered by this section of law
+ Is it possible to stop a complainant that has filed numerous complaints against the same employer?
No, as long as each complaint meets the FCHR’s jurisdictional requirements of timeliness and covered subject matter and does not duplicate allegations from a previous complaint, the FCHR must investigate the complaint. It is helpful to the FCHR if you point out similar complaints so that the same investigator can be assigned. The investigator is already familiar with the facts and could possibly complete his or her investigation more quickly.
STATE EMPLOYEE WHISTLE-BLOWER RETALIATION
+ Who is eligible to file a whistle-blower retaliation complaint?
Any person who has been subjected to an adverse action by an executive branch state agency or independent contractor in retaliation for engaging in protected conduct as defined by the Whistle- blower’s Act. This may be an employee, former employee or non-employee of a state agency or independent contractor, and includes volunteers.
+ What is protected conduct under the Whistle-blower’s Act?
Disclosure of any violation or suspected violation of any federal, state, or local law, rule, or regulation committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor which creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare, or any act or suspected act of gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, suspected or actual Medicaid fraud or abuse, or gross neglect of duty committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor.
+ What is an adverse action?
The discharge, suspension, transfer, or demotion of any employee or the withholding of bonuses, the reduction in salary or benefits, or any other adverse action taken against an employee within the terms and conditions of employment by an agency or independent contractor.
CASE STATUS WITH EEOC
+ What is a referral state?
The anti-discrimination laws give a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination. In general, a charge must be filed with the EEOC within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180 calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. The rules are slightly different for age discrimination charges. For age discrimination, the filing deadline is only extended to 300 days if there is a state law prohibiting age discrimination in employment and a state agency or authority enforcing that law. The deadline is not extended if only a local law prohibits age discrimination. Florida is a referral state.
+ What’s the difference between FCHR, EEOC and other local FEPA’s around the state of Florida?
Within the state of Florida, many counties, cities, and towns have their own ordinances prohibiting discrimination, as well as locally-funded agencies responsible for enforcing those ordinances. These agencies are referred to as Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs), and the ordinances enforced by these agencies are similar to the federal laws enforced by the EEOC. However, in some cases, the local ordinances may offer greater protection to workers or there may be different deadlines for filing a charge, different standards for determining whether a worker is protected by those laws, and different types of relief available to victims of discrimination. In addition to the FCHR, which is the statewide FEPA, the following local FEPAs also exist in the state of Florida:
- Jacksonville Human Rights Commission
- Hillsborough County Equal Opportunity Administrator
- Miami-Dade County Equal Opportunity Board
- City of Orlando Office of Human Relations
- Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity
- Pinellas County Office of Human Rights
- City of Tampa Office of Human Rights
+ What does dual-filing mean?
The FCHR has a work share agreement with the EEOC. A work share agreement between the FCHR and the EEOC helps avoid duplicating an investigation. The EEOC and the FCHR act as agents for one another, and it is only necessary for one agency to investigate a claim.
+ How is it determined whether the EEOC or the FCHR will investigate a charge that has been filed with both agencies simultaneously?
Typically, the agency that receives the charge first will retain it for investigation.
+ Can the FCHR investigate a charge even if the EEOC received the complaint first?
Maybe. The FCHR will, at times, request to investigate a charge against a state employer located in Tallahassee if the EEOC has not yet begun its investigation. However, this is not a common occurrence.
+ Will the FCHR issue a finding accepting the EEOC’s determination?
No, the determination issued by the EEOC serves as the determination of both agencies.
+ Will the EEOC review determinations issued by the FCHR?
Yes, a party may request the EEOC to give a Substantial Weight Review to the FCHR’s determination. The request must be made to the EEOC in writing within 15 days of receipt of the determination. Otherwise, the EEOC will ordinarily adopt the FCHR’s findings and close its file on the charge.
+ Does the FCHR issue Notice of Right to Sue like the EEOC?
No, a Notice of Right to Sue must be requested by contacting the EEOC. It is preferred that the request be in writing.
+ How do I get information on the status of my case that was filed with the EEOC?
Contact EEOC at 1-800-669-4000.
+ What is mediation and how can I obtain that service?
Mediation is an interactive process between the complainant and the respondent where the parties attempt to reach a mutually agreeable settlement. Both parties must agree to mediate before any mediation will be scheduled. If both parties agree, the case will be transferred to the FCHR’s mediation unit and one of the FCHR’s mediators will contact the parties to schedule a date and time. The mediation may be performed either on the phone or in person. You do not need an attorney to mediate. If the parties are unable to reach a resolution through mediation, the case will be returned to the investigations unit.
+ Is there a charge for this service?
No, although if the parties request an in-person mediation, the FCHR will request that, if travel to the mediation locale is necessary, the mediator’s travel expenses be reimbursed by the parties.
SENIOR/OLDER PERSON (55+) HOUSING
+ Is there a registration or renewal fee required?
No. As of September 2015, the Commission no longer collects a registration or renewal fee.
+ Why does a facility or community have to register with the Florida Commission on Human Relations to claim 55+ status?
A facility or community claiming 55+ status is exempted from the Florida Fair Housing Act as it pertains to familial status. The Florida Legislature requires these communities to register with FCHR by sending a certified letter to the Commission stating that the facility or community is in compliance with the federal fair housing requirements. However, failure to comply with the requirement does not disqualify a facility or community that otherwise qualifies for the exemption.
+ If a facility or community registers with FCHR, does that mean it is "certified" as meeting the requirements for the exemption from the act?
FCHR accepts registrations based solely on the written representations of the registrant. The FCHR does not independently determine whether or not the registrant in fact meets the requirements of law.
+ Where can I locate the FCHR facility account number?
You must call FCHR (850-907-6785) for the facility account number.
+ One management company operates several 55+ communities (i.e., mobile home parks, condominiums, cooperatives, etc.). Must the company register each community separately?
If each community under the management company is a separately declared entity recorded in the county where the property is located, then the company must submit a registration for each community that it manages. This registration must include the physical address, in addition to the mailing address, of each community.
+ Do 55+ communities need to register each facility or building within that community separately?
Individual buildings within the same community can be registered as one entity.
+ What is familial status?
Families with children or a person who is pregnant or who is about to secure legal custody of someone under the age of 18
+ Can a facility's or community's attorney sign the letter of registration?
The law requires that the letter must be signed by the president of the facility or community and provided on the facility’s or community’s letterhead stationery.
+ I am part of a management company. Can I use my company's address and contact information instead of the community's?
The 55+ housing relationship is between the Commission and the housing community. It is essential that the address and contact information provided is for the community, not the management company. This will expedite matters and simplify the process for everyone.