Filing a Complaint
The process for filing a discrimination complaint is detailed below.
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.
After the case has been filed, the parties have the option of working with a mediator to resolve the dispute before it is assigned for investigation. Mediation is voluntary and must be agreed to by both parties.
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.
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.
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.