Department of Labor and Industry

Human Rights

Human Rights Category

Welcome to the Human Rights Bureau Home Page

What Does the Montana Human Rights Bureau Do?

The Montana Human Rights Bureau receives and investigates complaints of illegal discrimination.  The Human Rights Bureau is the agency responsible for enforcing the Montana Human Rights Act and the Governmental Code of Fair Practices, along with certain federal anti-discrimination statutes. The Bureau is committed to providing quality education and training opportunities to employers, employees, housing providers, tenants, and all Montana residents.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, it is important to remember that under state discrimination laws you only have 180 days to file a complaint.  This means you only have 180 days from when an adverse act happens to have a written complaint filed with our office.  Time may be extended if the person participated in a grievance procedure.  (MCA 49-2-501)

It is important to understand that we serve Montana as a neutral entity; we do not provide any type of advocacy service on behalf of the employee or the employer.

The information provided on this web page may constitute legal information.  Legal information is not the same as legal advice (the application of the law to an individual’s specific circumstances).  We will do our best to provide you with neutral information that is accurate and useful, but we recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.

Montana's Discrimination Laws

Montana's discrimination laws can be found in the Montana Human Rights Act (Title 49) and in the Montana Governmental Code of Fair Practices.

These laws make it unlawful to discriminate in:

  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Public Accommodations
  • State and Local Governmental Services and Employment
  • Credit
  • Insurance (sex and marital status only)
  • Finance

because of:

Harassment based on any protected class is unlawful!

In order for behavior to be considered unlawful harassment, it must be suffciently frequent and/or severe to create a hostile work environment, or it must result in a tangible action, such as a demotion, termination, eviction, change in work duties, wages or rent.

Issues that are NOT Within the Authority of the Bureau

 The Bureau does not handle:
  • Veterans preference
  • Smokers rights or Clean Indoor Air Act (except when directly related to a request for accommodation for a disability)
  • Matters related to arrest, criminal convictions, or sentencing
  • Matters related to divorce proceedings, child custody and child support
  • Matters related to court rulings
  • General unfair treatment not based upon one of the protected classes listed above
  • Alleged misconduct committed by a federal government or by tribal governments

Common Referrals

Bureau Chief
Marieke Beck
Phone: (406) 444-4356
Email: kcobos@mt.gov
Case Manager
Kathleen Helland
Phone: (406) 444-4356
Email: kcobos@mt.gov


Mailing Address
P.O. Box 1728
Helena, MT 59624-1728
 

Location
USF&G Building
1625 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59601

Phone
(406) 444-2884
1-800-542-0807
TDD at (406) 444-9696

 
Fax
(406) 444-2798

Human Rights Commission

The Montana Human Rights Commission is composed of five members of the public appointed by the governor. The purpose of the Human Rights Commission is to sit in independent judgment of complaints of alleged discrimination. It is the role of the Commission to maintain the highest standards of objectivity and impartiality in fulfilling this duty.

The Department of Labor and Industry has an administrative process with several different levels. The Human Rights Commission is the last level in the administrative process. In the most general terms, the Human Rights Commission sits in independent judgment and offers an objective perspective on the work of the Department of Labor and Industry, Human Rights Bureau and the Hearings Bureau.

Commission hearings are generally held every other month in Helena, Montana. Typically, the Commission convenes in January, March, May, July, September, and November.  The March agenda is now available.

The primary function of Commission meetings are to conduct hearings on: (1) objections by a Charging Party to a determination of the Human Rights Bureau to dismiss an action and/or (2) appeals from “Final Agency Decisions” issued by the Hearings Bureau. (Process Flow Chart ) (Guide to Human Rights Laws)

Human Rights Decisions

Commission and Final Agency Decisions Since 1996

A Guide to Montana's Human Rights Laws

Montana's Discrimination Laws

Montana's discrimination laws can be found in the Montana Human Rights Act (Title 49) and in the Montana Governmental Code of Fair Practices.

    These laws make it unlawful to discriminate in:

  • Credit
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Financing
  • Housing
  • State and Local Governmental Services and Employment
  • Insurance (sex and marital status only)
  • Public Accommodations

    because of:

  • Age
  • Familial Status (housing only)
  • Marital Status
  • National Origin
  • Physical or Mental Disability
  • Political Beliefs or Ideas (governmental services and employment only)
  • Race/Color
  • Religion/Creed
  • Sex (including pregnancy, maternity and sexual harassment)

These laws also make it unlawful to retaliate against a person for opposing unlawful discriminatory practices or for participating in a human rights proceeding.

Enforcing Montana's Discrimination Laws

        A. Phase One - The Human Rights Bureau

  • Provides technical assistance concerning discrimination law;
  • Accepts discrimination complaints;
  • Attempts resolution of each case;
  • Conducts impartial investigations and issues determinations on merits of the case;
  • Attempts conciliation of complaints when preponderance of the evidence supports that discrimination has occurred.

        B. Phase Two - The Hearing Bureau

  • Conducts a formal or informal public hearing when conciliation is not possible;
  • Issues a decision on the case;
  • Orders any reasonable measure to correct discriminatory practices and correct harm to persons discriminated against.

        C. Phase Three - The Human Rights Commission

  • Hears appeals from decisions of the hearings examiner;
  • Hears objections to decisions of the HRB to dismiss a complaint.

Time Limits For Filing Discrimination Complaints

Generally, complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the alleged discrimination under Montana law.

If a complaint has followed a written grievance procedure established by a collective bargaining agreement, contract, or written rule or policy to resolve the dispute, the complaint must be filed within 300 days of the alleged discrimination.

Issues That Are Not Within The Authority of the Bureau

    The Bureau does not handle:

  • Hiring and firing decisions which do not relate to discrimination based upon the factors listed above, such as termination without good cause under the Montana Wrongful Discharge Act;
  • Access to and confidentiality of personnel files;
  • Smokers rights; Indoor Clean Air Act (except when a physically handicapped non-smoker alleges handicap discrimination based upon the smoking of others);
  • Matters related to arrest, criminal convictions, or sentencing;
  • Matters related to divorce proceedings, child custody and child support;
  • Matters related to decrees issued by courts;
  • Veterans preference;
  • General unfair treatment not based upon one of the protected classes listed above;
  • Unlawful discrimination alleged to have been committed by the federal government or by tribal governments.

Administrative Rules of Montana

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Filing a Complaint

Can I File a Complaint with the Human Rights Bureau?

How To File a Self-Drafted Complaint

Process Flow Chart


The process for filing a discrimination complaint is detailed below.

Intake

A person who believes that they have experienced illegal discrimination should contact the Montana Human Rights Bureau at (406) 444-4356 or 1-800-542-0807. If the alleged discrimination is within the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Bureau, a telephone interview will be scheduled with an investigator. If the facts indicate that illegal discrimination may have occurred, an investigator will take the information by telephone and draft a formal complaint, for signature by the complainant. A formal complaint must be filed with the Bureau within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory action.

The Department of Labor and Industry, Human Rights Bureau, is a neutral administrative agency in the process. The person filing the complaint is referred to as the "charging party". The business or entity against whom the complaint is filed is called the "respondent".

Once a complaint is filed with the agency, the respondent will be notified within 10 days. The complaint may also be dual filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if the allegations fall under federal employment discrimination laws.

Voluntary Resolution as an Alternative

Voluntary resolution can expedite your case.  It's a faster alternative and the parties retain control.  If you are considering voluntary resolution or would like more information, please discuss this with your investigator.  If the parties wish to discuss voluntary resolution, the Bureau has the option of adding up to 45 days to conduct its informal investigation.

Investigation

The case is assigned to an investigator who will conduct an informal investigation to determine if illegal discrimination occurred. The investigator will obtain a position statement from the respondent. The position statement will be forwarded to the charging party for a rebuttal.

The investigator may request additional information, make an on-site inspection or hold an in person fact finding conference, as part of the informal investigation.

The fact finding conference is an informal meeting which provides each party the opportunity to present their position in the case. The investigator will also work with the parties to reach a voluntary no-fault resolution of the case.

The investigation must be completed within 180 days (120 days in housing cases). If the case cannot be resolved, a Final Investigative Report summarizing the investigation is issued to the parties. In this report, the investigator recommends a finding of “reasonable cause,” meaning there is reason to believe that illegal discrimination occurred; or “no reasonable cause,” meaning the evidence does not support a finding that illegal discrimination occurred.

Conciliation

If a reasonable cause finding is issued, the Bureau staff attempts to conciliate the case with the parties. Conciliation may include compensation for any losses incurred, making employment available to the charging party, modifying any practices having an adverse effect on protected classes; and taking other affirmative steps needed to eliminate discrimination.

Public Hearing

When conciliation is not possible, the Department of Labor and Industry will hold a public hearing. A hearing examiner will conduct a formal hearing subject to the rules of evidence and procedure, similar to a non-jury trial in district court. The hearing examiner will issue a Final Agency Decision regarding whether discrimination occurred. If appropriate, the hearing officer will award monetary damages, and other affirmative relief. This decision can be appealed to the Montana Human Rights Commission.

Standard Release Form
Witness Statement Form
Witness List Form