Efforts to prevent employment discrimination across the country are a patchwork of federal and state law protections and enforcement. At the federal level, large employers are prohibited from various types of discrimination, with enforcement efforts spearheaded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. States are left to fill in the gaps among the many federal laws with their own protections. Virginia law does not do much to fill those gaps.

In this report, we set out to answer two questions:


  1. How do other states’ efforts to curb employment discrimination compare to Virginia’s lackluster laws and enforcement mechanisms? Virginia’s primary anti-discrimination law is in the Virginia Human Rights Act, which only prohibits employers with between 6-14 employees from firing someone on the basis of a protected status. The only statewide enforcement authority exists as a division of the Office of the Attorney General, which cannot order relief or litigate complaints they find substantiated. We compared these provisions with the enforcement mechanisms in other states in our 50 State Survey, and found the Virginia is lagging far behind in meaningful enforcement efforts.
  2. What types of employment discrimination have people reported to the ACLU of Virginia? We wanted to get a sense of what issues people have been raising in this area. We analyzed and summarized intakes going back to 2013 to get a glimpse into the types of and bases for employment discrimination happening throughout the Commonwealth. Our data is self-reported and not comprehensive but provides an important window into the experiences of Virginia’s workers.

From all of the intakes we reviewed and our comparisons to other states, one thing is clear: employment discrimination is happening throughout Virginia, and the Commonwealth is not doing enough to combat it. We urge policymakers to take steps to provide better protections for Virginia’s employees, like strengthening our state-level anti-discrimination law, creating an independent state agency that can enforce this law, and collecting and reporting data annually. Anti-discrimination protections are too important of an area of law for Virginia to remain at the bottom of the country.