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Attorney General of Virginia

Office of Civil Rights

In January 2021, Attorney General Mark R. Herring officially created the Office of Civil Rights within the Office of Attorney General in order to expand, enhance, and centralize his ongoing work to protect Virginians from discrimination and to secure and expand the rights of all Virginians.

The new designation of the Office of Civil Rights was the culmination of a multiyear plan to expand the authority and resources dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Virginians, and to place the protection of civil rights at the center of the mission of the Office of Attorney General.

The Office of Civil Rights expands and reorganizes the previous Division of Human Rights, which was transferred from the executive branch into the OAG in 2012, to include additional authorities and responsibilities that Attorney General Herring has secured from the General Assembly in recent years.

The Office of Civil Rights’ areas of focus and responsibility include the following:

Conducting Pattern or Practice Investigations to Identify and Eliminate Unconstitutional and Illegal Policing

During the 2020 Special Session on criminal justice reform, Attorney General Herring worked with Senator L. Louise Lucas and Del. Alfonso Lopez to secure authority for his office to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices, making Virginia one of the first states in the nation to give its attorney general this authority.

Dedicated personnel in the Office of Civil Rights conduct these specialized investigations into systemic instances of unconstitutional policing or violations of civil rights by law enforcement agencies. To file a complaint, please complete the OCR Complaint Form - Police Misconduct.

Combating Discrimination in Employment and Places of Public Accommodation

The Office of Civil Rights incorporates the previous Division of Human Rights’ responsibility for investigating instances of employment discrimination or discrimination in places of public accommodation. This includes investigating and taking action against businesses that pay employees less or make hiring, promotion, or termination decisions based on race, gender, sexual orientation or another protected class, or businesses that refuse service to someone because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or status as a member of another protected class.

Starting on July 1, 2021, domestic workers are protected from discrimination by the Virginia Human Rights Act. Specifically, any person employing one or more domestic workers may not discriminate against a domestic worker because of their race, color, religion, national origin, status as a veteran, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy, or childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation. A “domestic worker” is someone who is compensated directly or indirectly for the performance of services of a household nature in or around a private home, but does not include certain people who provide care for children or individuals who, because of age or infirmity, are unable to care for themselves. Please note that prohibitions on employment discrimination vary based on the protected class, form of discrimination, and federal versus state law.

Combating Housing Discrimination

The Office of Civil Rights incorporates the previous Division of Human Rights’ responsibility for prosecuting instances of housing discrimination before the Virginia Fair Housing Board, including new protections against LGBTQ discrimination in renting or selling housing, and violations of Virginia’s new ban on “income discrimination,” which Attorney General Herring and his team supported in the 2020 legislative session.

Combating LGBTQ and Gender-based Discrimination

Attorney General Herring has fought for years to better protect the rights and safety of LGBTQ Virginians. He was the first attorney general in the country to successfully argue that his own state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples violated the Constitution and should be struck down, and he successfully pushed legislation to update Virginia’s hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

The new Virginia Values Act includes explicit protections that make it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ Virginians in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodation. The Office of Civil Rights includes personnel to investigate allegations that someone has been fired, denied housing, refused service, or otherwise discriminated against on the basis of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or another protected characteristic.

Protecting the Rights of Expectant and New Mothers

The Office of Civil Rights investigates and enforce violations of Virginia’s new laws, which Attorney General Herring supported in the 2020 session, that protect pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination at their workplace or in places of public accommodation. These laws will prevent employers from firing, failing to promote, or failing to hire women who are or may become pregnant, or women who require an accommodation for nursing or lactation. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations for a woman’s pregnancy, childbirth, or lactation needs now constitutes unlawful sex or gender discrimination in violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act.

 

Contact the Office of Civil Rights by phone at (804)786-2071 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For more information view our Office of Civil Rights page.

 

R. Thomas Payne

Senior Assistant Attorney General/Chief

Office of Civil Rights

Office of the Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street

Richmond, VA 23219