If you file with the Human Rights Commission, Commission staff will review your complaint to see if it meets the basic requirements for filing a discrimination claim. If they decide to investigate, a copy of your complaint is sent to the party against whom the complaint has been filed — the respondent — who has to respond to the allegations within fourteen (14) days (Code of Vermont Rules 80-250-001, Rule 10). The Commission then assigns an investigator, who will look into your claims to see if there are reasonable grounds to believe that you have been discriminated against. In doing so, the investigator may examine and copy records and documents, and conduct interviews of all relevant parties and witnesses. The five Commissioners appointed by the governor then decide whether there are reasonable grounds to credit your allegations (9 V.S.A. §§ 4551(a) and 4554(d) – (e)).
If you file a complaint with the Civil Rights Unit (CRU), the process is very similar, and is described in detail on the CRU’s website: www.ago.vermont.gov/divisions/civil-rights/employment-law/civil-rights-unitprocess.php.
The Human Rights Commission and the CRU both allow the parties to engage in voluntary settlement discussions to resolve the case at any point during the investigative process. If these efforts fail, at the end of the investigation the Human Rights Commission or the CRU issues findings stating whether there was a violation of law.
If reasonable grounds are found, the Commission will send the case for “conciliation” or settlement proceedings, unless the Commission finds an emergency. If negotiations fail to produce a settlement agreeable to all parties within six months, the Commission will either file a claim against the respondent in the Superior Court or dismiss the proceedings, unless the parties agree to an extension in order to complete ongoing negotiations (9 V.S.A. § 4554(e); Code of Vermont Rules 80-250-001, Rules 31-32).
Similarly, if the CRU finds a violation of law, the respondent will be asked to engage in settlement negotiations to try to resolve the case. If these negotiations fail, the CRU may file a complaint against the respondent in Superior Court (www.ago.vermont.gov/divisions/civil-rights/employment-law/civil-rights-unitprocess.php).
If reasonable grounds of unlawful discrimination are not found, the case will be dismissed at the Commission (9 V.S.A. § 4554(d)). If the CRU finds no violation of law, the file will be closed (www.ago.vermont.gov/divisions/civil-rights/employment-law/civil-rights-unitprocess.php).
At this point, or at any point in the process at the Commission or the CRU, you may decide to file a case in court. It is crucial to always keep in mind the deadlines for filing such a case, as discussed above. If you do so while an investigation is pending at the Commission, the Commission will administratively dismiss the investigation although the Commission may file its own complaint regarding the matter or intervene in your court action (Code of Vermont Rules 80-250-001, Rule 27).