What happens after I file a complaint?

How is a housing discrimination complaint processed?

The Complaint
    A phone call, letter or visit to the Housing Discrimination Unit of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities starts the process. An interview with an Intake Officer will be scheduled to help you file your sworn complaint. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the alleged act of discrimination or from the time you reasonably became aware of the discrimination.

The Response
    The complaint is served on the "respondent," the person or company you feel has discriminated against you. They must respond under oath within10 days, or they may be defaulted and your case sent directly to a hearing to determine appropriate remedies for the discrimination.

The Investigation
    After a response is received, cases are assigned to one of our investigators in the order in which they are filed, as soon as the Commission’s caseload permits 

    Our investigator’s job is to act as a neutral person who will gather information on both sides of your complaint -- your side and the side of the person or company you feel has discriminated against you. The investigator collects documents and testimony from witnesses and will review these with you.

The Determination
    Our investigator looks at the laws that apply to the case, and at the facts uncovered by the investigation, and determines if there is "reasonable cause" or "no reasonable cause" to believe that your rights have been violated under the law.

    A "no reasonable cause" determination means a case will be closed for lack of sufficient evidence. This does not necessarily mean that the discrimination did not occur, but that the investigator could not find sufficient evidence to support your complaint.

    Some times a case may be closed before an investigation is complete and a "determination" is made. Some examples are if both sides and CHRO agree to a settlement, if you withdraw your complaint, if you cannot be located, or if your complaint is one the Commission does not have the authority to handle. Subject to certain requirements, you may also request a release of jurisdiction to proceed in state court, which, when granted, will close your case with the Commission.

The Remedies
   If our investigator determines there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination could have occurred in your case, our investigator is required by state law to try to negotiate an agreement among you, the other party and CHRO to eliminate the illegal discrimination and to make you "whole"  -- to restore you to the position you would have been in if the discrimination had not occurred. A settlement could include getting the property you were denied, an award for the difference in rent you had to pay, or other remedies to make you "whole" again.

The Hearing
   If your case is one of the few that cannot be resolved through a negotiated agreement, a hearing referee will decide the case. The hearing referee is a lawyer appointed by the Governor, with the approval of the legislature, to decide cases about discrimination, and the process is similar to taking a case to a judge in a courtroom. The difference is that you do not have to hire a lawyer, and there are no legal fees, or any other costs for you to pay, as in a court case.

    During the administrative hearing, a Commission attorney will present the evidence of discrimination the agency has found in your case. You may be represented by an attorney, if you choose to hire one. After examining witnesses and evidence presented at the hearing, and after the filing of various legal documents, the hearing referee, within 90 days, will make a decision in writing about the case. If the hearing referee rules discrimination occurred.  The respondent can be ordered to compensate you for actual damages, including humiliation, pain and suffering; to order the respondent to cease and desist the discriminatory practice or other equitable relief (for example to make housing available to you), to pay reasonable attorney's fees and cost, and to provide other affirmative relief. The Superior Court can issue an order for temporary or permanent injunctive relief.

State Superior Court
    If you or the respondent choose to have your case decided in State Superior Court, the Commission's attorney will file a suit and litigate on your behalf. Like the Administrative Hearing, the Superior Court Judge can order relief and award actual damages, attorney's fees and costs. In addition, the court can award punitive damages and impose civil fines.

The Appeal
    You, the respondent or the Commission may appeal a public hearing decision and settlements can be enforced in the state courts.

In addition
    You may file suit at your expense in State Superior Court within one year of an alleged violation. A court may award actual and punitive damages and attorney's fees and cost.