Page updated on Dec 27, 2019 at 12:10 PM

Q. What is discrimination?

A. Discrimination is the arbitrary difference in treatment of a person, including harassment, based on that person's "protected class" - that is, his/her race, color, gender, disability status, religion, ancestry, national origin, marital status, age, or sexual orientation.

Q. What laws does the Office of Human Rights enforce?

A. The Office of Human Rights enforces the City's Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination in employment (including labor unions or employment agencies), housing and commercial real estate (including lending institutions), public accommodations (restaurants, businesses, hotels etc.), health and social services, education, or city contracts, on the basis of race, color, gender, disability status, religion, ancestry, national origin, marital status, familial status, age (40+), or sexual orientation. The Office is also under contract as a Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA) with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to receive and investigate complaints filed under the following federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended.

Q. What entities are covered by the Human Rights Code?


Employers having four or more employees are covered under the Human Rights Code. Employers having fifteen or more employees are covered under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers having twenty or more employees are covered under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).


Any building or structure occupied, or intended for occupancy, as a residence by one or more families and any vacant land which is offered for sale or lease.

Commercial Real Estate

Land or any improvement of land, or an interest in land that is offered for sale or lease and that is being utilized by a commercial or industrial use under the City of Alexandria's Zoning Ordinance.

Public Accommodations

Any business, professional or commercial enterprise, refreshment, entertainment, sports, recreation or transportation facility in the city, whether licensed or not, public or private, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations are extended, offered, sold or otherwise made available in any manner to the general public.

Health and Social Services

Includes, but is not limited to, any hospital, clinic, dispensary, nursing home, convalescent home, rehabilitation center, social work agency, community service center, group work-recreation center, counseling and guidance services agency, day camp or resident camp, protective service organization or facility.  Exemptions may include religious centers or services.

City Contracts

Any contract of over $10,000, except any contract for the sale, purchase, or rental of land, to which the city is a party.

Any lending institution practicing the granting of rights to defer payment of debt, or to incur debt and defer its payment.

Education (Private)

Any nursery, day care center, kindergarten, elementary or secondary school, academy, college, university, extension course or nursing, secretarial, business, vocational, technical, trade, or professional school or joint apprenticeship program. Exemptions may be made in certain cases, for example, exclusivity in gender.

Q. How do I know if I have been the victim of discrimination?

A. Discrimination is often very subtle and difficult to distinguish from other forms of conduct not covered under anti-discrimination laws.  Often there is no "direct evidence" of a discriminatory act.  A Human Rights Investigator will listen to your concerns and give you guidance as to whether or not there appears to have been a violation of the law and if there is sufficient evidence to file a formal complaint of discrimination.

Q. Do any of these laws protect me from retaliation?

A. Yes. It is illegal to retaliate (to take any adverse action) against an individual because she/he has filed a complaint, objected to discriminatory practices, or participated in an investigation. If you believe you have been retaliated against, you can file a claim of retaliation with the Office.  Retaliation claims will be investigated as a new or separate claim.

Q. How do I file a complaint of discrimination?

A. If you believe someone has discriminated against you in any of the areas protected by the laws we enforce, you or your representative may contact the Office by telephone, in person, or in writing. If you contact us in writing, please include your name, address, and a telephone number where you can be reached during the day. A Human Rights Investigator will conduct a detailed interview with you, answer your questions and advise you regarding the filing of a complaint of discrimination or offer you other alternatives, as appropriate, to address your concerns. If circumstance permits, the investigator will prepare a complaint of discrimination which you will be asked to sign under oath or affirmation in front of a notary public, which will then be served on the respondent (the company that you are alleging engaged in a discriminatory manner).

Q. Are there any time limits?

A. Yes, there are very strict time frames in which charges of discrimination must be filed. It is best to contact the Office promptly when discrimination is suspected. 

Q. How long will the process take?

A. The length of time it takes to investigate a complaint varies depending on the factors in the case as well as how cooperative each party is during the investigation. Usually the process will take several months to complete, particulary if no settlements can be agreed upon.

Q. Are accommodations available?

A. Yes. Individuals who need an accommodation in order to file a charge or take part in the investigative process (e.g. sign language interpreter, print materials in an accessible format, foreign language interpreter) should inform the Office at least 72 hours in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made.