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What is the Virginia Values Act?

  • By: lipplaw
    Published: May 11, 2023
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Despite considerable advancements in civil rights in recent years, discrimination remains a pervasive issue, especially for marginalized communities such as the LGBTQ+ population. In response to this persistent problem, various states have enacted laws to safeguard these communities.

Virginia has stepped up to this challenge with a significant piece of legislation. But what exactly is the Virginia Values Act?

The Virginia Values Act is a pivotal legal reform that extends and strengthens Virginia’s existing laws to shield LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in employment. The VVA provides comprehensive protection against discrimination in the workplace and in other areas.

Essentially, the Virginia Values Act transforms the societal landscape in Virginia, ensuring protections from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, gender identity, and marital status.

To truly grasp the significance and impact of the Virginia Values Act, The Lipp Law Firm, PC delves deeper into its various provisions and the changes it brings about with this landmark legislation.

What does an employee need to do to file a discrimination claim under the Virginia Values Act?

If an employee believes they have been subjected to discrimination under the Virginia Values Act, there is a set process to initiate a legal claim. First, the employee must file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General, Office of Civil Rights.

This department is responsible for conducting a thorough investigation of the claim to determine if there is reasonable cause to suggest that discrimination has occurred.

Once the investigation is complete, the division will issue a determination. If the determination finds reasonable cause for the claim, this gives the green light for the employee to proceed with a lawsuit. The employee can then sue the employer in state court for the alleged discriminatory practices.

This process ensures that claims are thoroughly reviewed before litigation, protecting employers and employere and keeping Virginia court dockets clear of claims that could be resolved through administrative procedures.

What types of damages can an employee receive under the Virginia Values Act?

Under the Virginia Values Act, if an employee prevails in a discrimination lawsuit, the damages they can receive are expansive. The act removes the cap on compensatory damages, meaning there is no upper limit on the amount that can be awarded for losses such as emotional distress, harm to reputation, or other personal suffering caused by unlawful discrimination.

In addition to compensatory damages, the Act also allows for punitive damages, designed to punish the employer for particularly egregious behavior and deter similar conduct in the future. There is a $350,000 cap on punitive damages.

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Furthermore, a prevailing employee may be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees, providing some financial relief for litigation costs. Injunctive relief, a court order for the employer to stop discriminatory behavior, is also available under the Act.

The Virginia Values Act is particularly noteworthy because employees that sue their employer in Virginia state court have an advantage over federal lawsuits involving Title VII. This advantage is that Virginia does not typically allow for summary judgment in most civil actions, a mechanism that can often favor employers by terminating a case before it reaches trial.

Defending against discrimination claims under the Act in Virginia state court can be more costly for employers without this option. This heightened risk of significant damages is a powerful deterrent against discriminatory practices.

Additionally, the VVA allows employees bringing age discrimination claims to get broader damages under the law than they can get under the federal age discrimination law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

While a claim for age discrimination under the ADEA requires lost wages to be actionable, the VVA allows an employee to receive compensatory damages for age discrimination in the workplace even if there is not a wage reduction associated with the discrimination.

Finally, the VVA allows employees to bring claims of failure to accommodate based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Employees that have been retaliated against for seeking such accommodations can also bring claims against their employer.

What should employers do to protect against Virginia Values Act claims?

Employers in Virginia should take several proactive measures to safeguard against discrimination claims under the Virginia Values Act (VVA).

Employers must update handbooks to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status. They should also train employees on these protected classes in Virginia. This promotes compliance with state laws and a more inclusive workplace.

Employers should review their existing anti-discrimination policies with the assistance of legal counsel. This review should ensure their policies fully comply with the VVA, including protections for the new classes introduced under the act, such as LGBTQ+ individuals and veterans.

Employers should also familiarize themselves with the pre-trial claims process outlined by the VVA. This process includes options for mediation and conciliation, which are methods designed to resolve disputes in a non-adversarial manner.

Understanding these processes can aid employers in swiftly addressing any claims that might arise, potentially avoiding lengthy litigation.

What employers are subject to Virginia Values Act claims?

With the enactment of the Virginia Values Act, all employers with more than five but fewer than 20 employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year are covered by the Act’s employment discrimination provisions.

Many smaller businesses previously exempted from such laws must comply with these anti-discrimination provisions. Additionally, the Act applies to employment agencies, labor organizations, and places of public accommodation, ensuring broad protections against discriminatory practices.

What workers are not covered by this Virginia Values Act (VVA) law?

The Virginia Values Act primarily protects individuals classified as employees, leaving certain types of workers, such as independent contractors, outside its purview. These individuals are not legally recognized as company employees under the Act.

The distinction between employees and independent contractors or gig workers is based on various factors, including the degree of control a company has over a worker’s tasks and hours and the permanence of the relationship.

Independent contractors and gig workers, like freelance writers and consultants, typically have more control over their work. They are often engaged for a specific project or period, unlike employees who are subject to the employer’s control and have a more permanent, ongoing work relationship.

Note: Despite the short-term nature of their employment, temporary employees are covered by the Virginia Values Act. They are considered employees because they work under the control and direction of the employer, even if it’s for a limited period.

Lipp Law will help you navigate the Virginia Values Act

Whether you’re an employer seeking to ensure compliance with this law, an employee who believes they’ve been discriminated against, or someone looking to understand your rights better, it’s crucial to have knowledgeable legal guidance.

At The Lipp Law Firm, PC, we have a dedicated team of experts well-versed as both employee labor lawyers and employer labor lawyers in the intricacies of the Virginia Values Act. Our attorneys are ready to provide the advice, support, and advocacy you need. Don’t navigate these complex matters alone. Contact us today at (703) 896-7704 and let us help you ensure your rights are protected and your obligations are met under the Virginia Values Act.

Kathryn Megan Lipp

Katie dedicates her practice to employment separation guidance.
Based on her successful employment litigation practice...Read More