What is a “place of public accommodation”?

A place of public accommodation is a place that caters or offers its services, facilities, or goods to the general public (NH RSA 354-A:2, XIV). This definition is intentionally broad and includes motels, restaurants, rest areas, highways and hospitals.

Does New Hampshire have an anti-discrimination law protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer individuals from discrimination in places of public accommodation?

Yes. New Hampshire’s law banning sexual orientation discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing has been in effect since January 1, 1998 (see Norma Love, “Senate Passes Gay Civil Rights; Shaheen to Sign it,” Foster’s Daily Democrat, May 7, 1997).

Does the law protect transgender people in places of public accommodation?

Yes, on June 8, 2018 Governor Chris Sununu signed into law House Bill 1319, AN ACT prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which banned discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing based on gender identity. The law went into effect on July 8, 2018. The law amends NH RSA 354-A by adding “gender identity” to the list of protected characteristics. With the passage of this law, New Hampshire joins the other five New England states in banning transgender discrimination.

In the law, gender identity “means a person’s gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity, or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.”

Does the law protect people perceived as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer in places of public accommodation?

Yes. New Hampshire non-discrimination law defines “sexual orientation” as “having or being perceived as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality or homosexuality” (NH RSA 354-A:2, XIV-c). While the courts have not ruled on the meaning of the “perceived” language, it should mean that if a person is fired because they are perceived to be gay, they may invoke the protection of the anti-discrimination law regardless of their actual orientation.

What does the law say about discrimination in places of public accommodation?

Such places may not refuse, withhold, or deny use of accommodations, goods, or facilities because of a person’s sexual orientation (NH RSA 354-A:17). Unfortunately, New Hampshire has no anti-discrimination laws to protect transgender people.

How do I file a complaint of discrimination?

Intake Department

NH Commission for Human Rights

2 Industrial Park Drive

Concord, NH 03301

Alternatively, you may speak with an intake investigator by calling (603) 271-2767 or 1-800-735-2964 (toll free for NH). The Attorney General can also file claims of discrimination.

Once the Intake Questionnaire is filed, a CHR investigator will decide whether you have the basis to file a formal charge.

Do I need a lawyer?

No. The process is designed to allow people to represent themselves. However, GLAD strongly encourages people to find lawyers to represent them throughout the process. Not only are there many legal rules governing the CHR process, but employers and other defendants are likely to have legal representation.

What are the deadlines for filing a complaint of discrimination?

A complaint must be filed with the CHR within 180 days of the discriminatory act or acts (NH RSA 354-A:21, III). There are very few exceptions for lateness, and GLAD encourages people to move promptly in filing claims.

What happens after a complaint is filed with the CHR?

The CHR assigns an investigator to conduct an impartial investigation of the charges. The investigator may send out written questions (interrogatories) to be answered under oath, or request documents from either party. If the case is not dismissed for technical reasons, an assigned Commissioner will consult the investigator’s final report and decide if there is probable cause to credit your allegations.

If probable cause is found, the case will be sent for “conciliation”, or settlement proceedings. If negotiations fail to produce a settlement agreeable to all parties, the CHR will schedule a public hearing before three Commissioners. You can choose to be represented at this hearing by a private attorney or a lawyer for the CHR (See generally NH RSA 354-A:21). After the hearing, the Commission will issue a decision either finding in your favor and ordering appropriate relief, or finding in favor of the responding party and dismissing the charge. Either one of you can appeal the Commission’s decision to Superior Court.

If the CHR does not find probable cause, you may also appeal to the Superior Court. In order to be successful, your appeal must show that the CHR’s decision is either unlawful or unreasonable by a clear preponderance of the evidence (NH RSA 354-A:21, II-a).

What legal remedies can the CHR order if I win my case?

In all types of cases, the Commission may order the respondent to cease and desist the unlawful conduct. The CHR may also order a respondent to extend to a person the full advantages of a place of public accommodation. Finally, the CHR may impose an administrative fine, payable to the State, of up to $50,000, depending on how many past offenses the respondent has committed (NH RSA 354-A:21, II-d).

Note that if your complaint is dismissed and deemed frivolous, the defendant may seek to collect reasonable costs and attorney’s fees from you (NH RSA 354-A:21 II-f).

Can I also file a discrimination complaint with a federal agency?

Yes, in many cases. Since federal law and state law contain overlapping provisions, someone bringing a discrimination claim may sometimes pursue protections under both. For example, the federal employment non-discrimination law, called Title VII, applies to employers with at least 15 employees and forbids employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, and disability (which includes HIV status).

While Title VII does not expressly forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a growing number of courts and government agencies have taken the position that its proscription against sex discrimination encompasses both (See, e.g., United States & Dr. Rachel Tudor v. Southeastern Oklahoma State University, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89547 (2015) (denying motion to dismiss professor’s Title VII complaint that school had subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender identity)). In two separate decisions in 2012 and 2016, the EEOC itself concluded that sexual orientation discrimination, gender identity discrimination, and sex discrimination are one and the same, since the latter two are based on preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, and norms associated with masculinity and femininity (See Macy v. Holder, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821 (Apr. 20, 2012); Baldwin v. Foxx, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080 (July 15, 2015)). Although the EEOC’s decisions are not binding on the courts, many have used similar reasoning in affirming Title VII’s applicability to discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation (See, e.g., Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566 (6th Cir. 2004) (holding that Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on gender stereotyping); Videckis v. Pepperdine Univ., 150 F. Supp. 3d 1151, 1160 (C.D. Cal. 2015) (holding “sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex or gender discrimination”)).

When should I file a complaint with a federal agency?

GLAD recommends that, where there may be overlapping state and federal jurisdiction, you explore filing with the CHR first but keep in mind the possibility of pursuing a federal claim as well. Federal complaints must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory act with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, if you initially institute your complaint with CHR and indicate that you wish to have the complaint cross-filed with the EEOC, then the time limit is extended to the earlier of 300 days or 30 days after CHR has terminated the case (United States Code 42 sec. 2000e-5(e)(1)). (People who work for federal agencies are beyond the scope of this publication.) If you have a sexual orientation or gender identity complaint, you should check off “sex” as well as “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” as the bases for your claim and request that CHR cross-file your complaint with the EEOC.

Are there other options for filing a complaint for discrimination?

Possibly yes, depending on the facts of your particular situation.

State or Federal Court: After filing with the CHR, EEOC, or both, a person may decide to remove their discrimination case from those agencies and file the case in court. There are rules about when and how this must be done. When claims of discrimination based on state law are removed from the CHR and filed in state superior court, either party may request a jury trial and the court may order the same relief as would the CHR (NH RSA 354-A:21-a). Similarly, once the CHR process is complete, either party may ask a court to review the Commission’s decision (NH RSA 354-A:22, I).

In addition, you may wish to file a court case to address other claims which cannot be appropriately handled by discrimination agencies. For example, if you are fired in violation of a contract, fired without the progressive discipline promised in a handbook, or fired for doing something the employer doesn’t like but which the law requires, these matters are beyond the scope of what the agencies can investigate and instead the matter should be pursued in court. Similarly, if your claim involves a violation of constitutional rights—for instance, if you are a teacher or governmental employee who believes your free speech or equal protection rights were violated—then those matters must also be heard in court.

What can I do to prepare myself before filing a complaint of discrimination?