The Catholic University of America

Summary of District of Columbia Laws


D.C. Human Rights Act

D.C. Code Ann. §§ 2.1401.01 et seq.

Prohibited Employment Discrimination Practices: The D.C. Human Rights Act aims to provide every individual with an equal opportunity to participate in "all aspects of life," including, but not limited to, employment. District of Columbia law prohibits employment discrimination based wholly or partially on marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibility, matriculation, and political affiliation, in addition to race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, and physical handicap. The law prohibits discrimination based on these protected categories in: (1) hiring, discharge, compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges (including promotions); (2) employment referrals and classifications; (3) job training, apprenticeships, and job advertisements. The law also makes it unlawful to take employment action for any reason that would not have been asserted but for a discriminatory purpose based on one of these protected categories. See D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.11.

Section 2-1402.21 makes it unlawful for an educational institution to "deny, restrict, or to abridge or condition the use of, or bar access to, any of its facilities and services to a person otherwise qualified, wholly or partially, for a discriminatory reason," based on the race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, or disability.

However, educational institutions associated with religious organizations are given an exemption and may deny or restrict funds, services, facilities, or benefits to groups organized for or engaged in "promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle, orientation, or belief." Id. at § 2-1402.41 (3). If a religious or political organization is operating the education institution, they may limit employment admission to or give preference to persons of the same religious or political affiliation as the organization. Private schools may also discriminate in admissions on the basis of sex, but the exception is relinquished if there is no other program in the District available to the opposite sex and thus, the school must make the program available to those who are eligible, regardless of sex. See id. at §2-1402.42 (a). It is unlawful to coerce, threaten, retaliate against, or interfere with any person exercising his/her rights under the law and prohibits persons from requiring, requesting, or suggesting a person take such prohibited actions. In addition, it is unlawful to cause or coerce, or attempt to cause or coerce, any person to prevent such person from complying with the law. See id. at § 2-1402.61. Anyone who aids, abets, invites, compels, or coerces another to do any of these prohibited acts or attempts to do so, also violates the law. See id. at § 1-2526. For filing a complaint, see D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1403.04.

Neither federal nor D.C. law creates a cause of action against a coworker for hostile environment discrimination. See Hodges v. Washington Tennis Services International, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 386 (D.D.C. 1994). See also D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.11.

Defenses for Employers:

  1. The law excludes practices that are "not intentionally devised or operated to contravene [its] prohibitions . . . [that] can be justified by a business necessity." D.C. Code Ann. § 1-2503(a). The term "business necessity" had been narrowly construed. See Turcios v. United States Service Industries, 680 A.2d 1023 (D.C. 1996).

  2. Religious, political, educational, and charitable organizations may give preference "to persons of the same religion or political persuasion as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious or political principles for which it is established and maintained." D.C. Code Ann. § 2.1401.03(b).

  3. Excluding hiring, other decisions based on a bona fide seniority system are permitted if they are not intended to evade the purpose of the law. See id. at § 2.1402.12

  4. Actions taken to carry out an affirmative action plan approved by the D.C. Office of Human Rights are excluded. See id. at § 2.1402.53.

Postings: Every employer (including all other persons subject to this Act) must conspicuously post in a location where business activity is conducted a notice prepared by the D.C. Office of Human Rights. The posting provides important provisions of the Act and information regarding filing a complaint. See D.C. Code Ann. § 2.1402.51.

Recordkeeping: All employers (including all others subject to the Act) must keep business records for six (6) months from the date which the record was made, or from the date of the action which the record describes - whichever is longer. The record must at least include application forms, sales and rental records, credit and reference reports, personnel records, and any other pertinent record relating to the status of the individual's rights and privileges under the Act.

If a discrimination charge has been filed against the employer, the employer must preserve all relevant records until a final disposition of the charge has occurred. All persons shall furnish the Office with such reports relating to the charges when required. The persons and properties identified in the reports submitted to the Office shall not be made public. See D.C. Code Ann. § 2.1402.52.

An employer is considered in compliance with the reporting requirements under Section 2.1402.13 if the employer has filed the EEO-1, EEO-2, or EEO-3 report with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the report is available to the Office. D.C. Mun. Regs. title 4, § 723.1.

Affirmative Action Plans: It is not unlawful to carry out an approved affirmative action plan. The Office of Human Rights obtains approval and the plan must be devised as a corrective response to past discriminatory practices as prohibited under the Act. The plans may also provide preferential treatment though it would otherwise be prohibited under the Act, as long as it is not devised to contravene the Act's intent. See D.C. Code Ann. § 2.1402.53.

Selected Recent Case Law

Monteilh v. AFSCME, AFL-CIO, No. 06-CV-1156 (DC Sept. 17, 2009) D.C. Court of Appeals

District of Columbia Human Rights Act Held to Cover Non-DC Employees by Jackson Lewis (posted 11-18-09)

In this case the court included under the Act's protection employees who never applied for a job or worked within the District. The employee in question worked for AFSCME, which was headquartered in DC. The employee had worked only in Georgia and California.

Pardue v. The Center City Consortium Schools of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. Super. Ct. 02-5459, July 29, 2003 Opinion per Judge James E. Boasberg

In this case Plaintiff Kathleen Pardue was forced to resign as the Principal of St. Francis Xavier School, a Roman Catholic Elementary School. She brought a claim of reverse race discrimination under the D.C. Human Rights Act. The Defendants argued in a Motion for Summary Judgment that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction as this case represents an ecclesiastical dispute protected from Court interference under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Free Exercise Clause exempts the selection of clergy from Title VII and similar statutes, and precludes civil courts from adjudicating employment discrimination suits by ministers against the church or religious institutions employing them. The Court noted that " When employees of religious institutions bring discrimination suits against their employers, courts are required to engage in a unique balancing of interests." Quoting EEOC v. The Catholic University of America, 83 F. 3d 455, 460, (D.C. Cir. 1996) the Court identified the interests as " the Government's interest in eradicating discrimination in employment and the constitutional right of a church to manage its own affairs free from governmental interference." In Rayburn v. General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, 772 F. 2d 1164, 1165 (4th Cir. 1985), cert. denied 478 U.S. 1020 (1986) the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals articulated the following test for making a determination as to whether or not an employee's position meets what has been termed "the ministerial exception" under the Free Excercise Clause:

As a general rule, if the employee's primary duties consist of teaching, spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of a religious order, or supervision or participation in religious ritual and worship, he or she should be considered 'clergy. This approach necessarily requires a court to determine whether a position is important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church. (cites omitted)

Applying the Rayburn test to the DC case, the Superior Court found that the principal of each Catholic school in the Archdiocese has a significant religious and spiritual role in furthering that mission of the Church, including the hiring of teachers who teach the Catholic courses, making certain students attend Mass according to the Archdiocesan policy, and working with the pastor to ensure religious education is in conformity with Archdiocesan guidelines. The Court framed the primary question as "whether the position is important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church". Accordingly, the Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider the discrimination claim brought by Plaintiff.

Estes v. Georgetown University, 2002 WL 31477589 (D.D.C. 2002) (Nov. 6, 2002)

In this case, the judge upheld a jury award finding the university wrongfully terminated an employee who claimed a sexually hostile work environment and alleged retaliation. The case was brought under Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act. The jury found for Ms. Estes and awarded her $40,000 in compensatory damages, and back pay of $50,000, as well as punitive damages of one million dollars. After trial defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law, and in the alternative, for a new trial. They also moved to set aside the back pay and reduce the punitive damages award to a de minimis amount. Plaintiff moved for an order allocating the $40,000 compensatory damage award to her DCHRA claim, so that all of the $300,000 statutory maximum is preserved for punitive damages.

The judge denied the defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law, and for a new trial. The award of punitive damages was not set aside, but was reduced to the statutory maximum of $300,000, and the award of compensatory damages allocated to the DCHRA claim. The award of back pay was set aside.

The case is significant in that any evidence of a hostile environment consisted of the plaintiff's own testimony about sexually explicit remarks made in office (not about her) and an incident involving an male employee viewing pornography on the internet. The judge stated it was for the jury to decide whom to believe on the issue of whether the evidence showed simply vulgarity, or offensive conduct sufficiently severe to alter conditions of employment.

The punitive damages were awarded under Title VII' s more liberal standard and not under the DCHRA, which requires clear and convincing evidence of evil motive or actual malice.

CUA Policy Reference: See CUA's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Statement. See also CUA's ADA Guidelines, General Non-Discrimination Requirements.

Also Note: Litigation has been limited to the employment context. Discrimination is also prohibited based on the use of the Family and Medical Leave Act. An aggrieved party may file a complaint with the Office of Human Rights within one (1) year of the prohibited action. See under "Miscellaneous Employment Provisions" for employment guidelines relating to the Human Rights Act.

Cross Reference: See also Sexual Harassment, and the Human Rights section of this Summary of District of Columbia Laws. Also note federal laws regarding equal employment opportunity: Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI and Title VII), 42 U.S. C. §§ 2000d et seq., 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.; Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, 20 U.S. C. § 1687, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d-4a, 42 U.S.C. § 6101; Civil Rights Act of 1991 (amends Title VII), 42 U.S. C. § 1981a and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, (k-n); Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (amends Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k); Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d); Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq.; Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990, 29 U.S.C. 623; Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688; and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213.

updated 12/2/02 to add Estes case and update code cites.
updated 3/17/04 to add Pardue case
Revised NTC 11-7-07
DC code updated 2/25/08 RAB
links updated 6/6/08 rab
updated 11-19-09 to add Monteilh v. AFSCME
Page checked August 4th, 2010, FJL.