Court Permits D.C. Human Rights Act Claim Brought By Out-of-Town Employee

October 28, 2009

In a decision that could have a significant impact on employers with locations in Washington, D.C., the D.C. Court of Appeals recently held that the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA) applies to employers who make discriminatory decisions in the District, even if the affected employee works elsewhere. Among other things, the DCHRA prohibits various forms of discrimination in the workplace.

In Monteilh v. AFSCME, AFL-CIO, No. 06-CV-1155, 2009 D.C. App. LEXIS 463 (D.C. September 17, 2009), the plaintiff, Louis Monteilh, was an employee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), where he worked as a union organizer and field representative for many years. AFSCME is headquartered in the District, but Mr. Monteilh worked outside D.C., never performed any work in D.C. and did not apply for any jobs in D.C.

After years of being denied promotions to management, Mr. Monteilh filed a lawsuit against AFSCME in D.C. Superior Court, alleging race and age discrimination in violation of the DCHRA. He also alleged that he was transferred from a job in California to a new job in Georgia in retaliation for filing a grievance with AFSCME regarding the alleged discrimination.

In an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that various employment decisions were made in the District, including the decision to transfer Mr. Monteilh from California to Georgia. Nonetheless, AFSCME moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the DCHRA did not apply to Mr. Monteilh’s claims, because he was never employed in, and the allegedly unlawful employment decisions did not affect a job or application for employment within, the District. The Superior Court agreed with AFSCME and dismissed Mr. Monteilh’s claims for lack of jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeals (the District’s highest court) reversed. It held that the Superior Court did have jurisdiction to hear Mr. Monteilh’s claims under the DCHRA. The Court also rejected the argument that the DCHRA only applies to individuals employed in the District. It recognized that many of the allegedly unlawful employment decisions about which Mr. Monteilh complained were made in the District at AFSCME’s headquarters.

The Court concluded that denying Mr. Monteilh the right to pursue his claims under the DCHRA would be contrary to the statute’s broad purpose of eliminating workplace discrimination within the District. Thus, the Court held that an out-of-town employee may bring a claim against an employer under the DCHRA when either the unlawful discriminatory or retaliatory decisions are made in the District or their effects are felt there. However, the Court noted it would not be sufficient simply to show that the employer is headquartered or has offices in the District.

In light of the Monteilh decision, employers with locations within D.C. need to ensure that employment decisions made in the District concerning employees who do not work or reside within it comply with the provisions of the DCHRA, as well as laws applicable to where the affected employee lives and works.

For additional information, please contact the authors or any other member of the McGuireWoods Labor & Employment  or Employee Benefits teams.