Working for Justice

Five Reasons to Celebrate the Virginia Values Act

Posted May 14th, 2020 by in Employment Discrimination.

A new Virginia law expands anti-discrimination protections for employees in the state and gives employees and civil rights advocates many reasons to celebrate.  Here are five.

1. Virginia employees are explicitly protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity. When the law goes into effect on July 1, 2020, there will be no dispute that employers covered by the law cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity.  Virginia is the first Southern state to explicitly extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ employees.

2. Employees in Virginia are protected against discrimination in all forms. Before the new law, Virginia state law allowed employees to challenge discrimination only when they were terminated, meaning that employees who suffered discrimination but who were not fired had no recourse under state law.  The new law will protect employees who experience discrimination in, for example, pay, promotions, and other benefits.  These new protections apply to discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, and status as a veteran, as well as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

3. Employees in Virginia who suffer discrimination will now be able to recover uncapped compensatory and punitive damages. Prior to this, damages under Virginia state law were limited to one year of backpay.  Compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress and lost future earnings, were not available.  This provision is particularly helpful for employees because federal law imposes caps on compensatory damages.

4. Employees are eligible for uncapped attorneys’ fees. Before the Virginia Values Act, state law capped attorneys’ fees at 25% of the backpay award.  Attorneys’ fees are provided in civil rights actions to make it easier for employees to hire the lawyers necessary to pursue their rights, and the limitation Virginia previously imposed made it harder for lower-wage employees who suffered discrimination to obtain legal representation and vindicate their rights.

5. It may be easier for Virginia employees to get relief. The new Virginia law makes filing in state court a much more attractive option.  Before this, with small exceptions, Virginia employees experiencing discrimination had to pursue claims in federal court (if they could pursue claims at all).  Because state courts are less likely to grant summary judgment then federal courts, it may mean that Virginia employees who suffer discrimination are more likely to get relief.

To learn how the new law may protect you, consult an experienced employment law attorney.

Kate Mueting is a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Sanford Heisler Sharp. Ms. Mueting is responsible for managing much of the KPMG gender discrimination litigation and also represents employees in other individual and class discrimination and overtime cases.
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