Employment Law Updates

The new Virginia Values Act will go into effect July 1, 2020. This is groundbreaking legislation that, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The law is far-reaching and governs discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, banking and education.  This blog will focus on the employment aspects of the new law.

The Act expands the Virginia Human Rights Act to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and status as a veteran to the existing protected classes of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, and disability.  Discriminatory employment practices motivated in part by one of the protected categories are illegal.  This “mixed motive” standard is new.  Previously, an employee was required to prove that the discriminatory practice was motivated solely by consideration of the protected category.
Another significant change made by this Act is the expansion of the category of employers covered by the law’s prohibitions.  The Virginia Human Rights Act currently is limited to discrimination claims against employers with more than 5 and less than 15 employees.  Claims against larger employers must be filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  As of July 1, the Virginia law will allow discrimination claims against employers with 15 or more employees, making the law similar to the federal Title VII.  If, however, the discrimination claim involves unlawful discharge, it can be filed against employers with more than 5 employees, unless it is based on age discrimination.  In that case, the target employer category is more than 5 but fewer than 20 employees.
The new law also allows a private right of action for unlawful discrimination and expands the amount of damages that can be claimed. Current law caps the amount of damages. With the new law, in addition to compensatory damages, a successful plaintiff can recover punitive damages up to $350,000, plus court costs and attorney fees.  A court may also grant permanent or temporary injunctive relief and a temporary restraining order. The Attorney General can also bring cases that could result in civil penalties against offending employers.
Feel free to contact us if you have questions about this matter.

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