State Law: Rhode Island


The Law

The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, codified in Chapter 28-5 of the Rhode Island General Statutes, makes it illegal for an employer or labor organization to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex.

An "employee" under the Act "does not include any individual employed by his or her parents, spouse, or child, or in the domestic service of any person." An "employer" means "the state and all political subdivisions of the state and any person in this state employing four (4) or more individuals, and any person acting in the interest of an employer directly or indirectly."

Thus, the Rhode Island statute against discrimination in the workplace applies to all employers with four or more employees, while Title VII only applies to employers with 15+ employees.

The Fair Employment Practices Act specifically covers employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, ancestral origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identify or expression.

Discrimination on the basis of sex includes, but is not limited to, "because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work, and nothing in this chapter shall be interpreted to permit otherwise."

Filing A Complaint

The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights investigates complaints filed with it free of charge. Complaints under state law must be filed within one year of the date you became aware you were being discriminated against or the date of the alleged illegal act. You may file a complaint with the Commission by calling (401) 222-2661 and speaking with an Information Officer. You can also access an Information Questionnaire online and mail it into the Commission at 180 West Minster Street, 3rd Floor; Providence, RI 02903.

A formal charge of discrimination will be drafted for you if your allegations are covered by the law. Once you file a complaint with the Commission, the Commission will send your employer a letter and a copy of your complaint, stating that you believe you were/are being discriminated against. The employer will have an opportunity to respond to this complaint.

An investigator will be assigned to your case, who will act as a neutral decision-maker to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe you have been discriminated against and your rights violated.

If reasonable cause is found, you and your employer may be required to attempt to negotiate a settlement. If settlement negotiations fail, a public hearing will be held. If your case goes to public hearing, you will not have to incur any legal expenses or other costs, as you would have to pay in a court case, unless you hire your own private attorney.

You may decide to go through the federal or state court process instead of the Commission’s investigative process. You must first file with the EEOC or Rhode Island Commission and request a Notice of Right to Sue in order to file in court. The attorney you hire will explain this process to you. Many Rhode Island attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. State law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim that are capped under federal law.

For more information and a more detailed explanation of the complaint process, please visit the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights website.