The D.C. Human Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on their family responsibilities.
In December 2021, D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Hearing Examiners R. Neloms and B. Horsley were left scrambling to find childcare when they received only a few days' notice that their children’s schools would shift back to virtual learning for four weeks amid a record-breaking COVID surge in the area. Despite having been allowed to telework with DMV laptops during the first fifteen months of the pandemic without issue, Ms. Neloms and Mr. Horsley were denied permission to return to that arrangement for the temporary school closure. Unable to secure childcare immediately during the worsening Omicron wave, Ms. Neloms and Mr. Horsley were forced to use their personal leave or pay out of pocket for childcare to prevent their children from being left home alone.
After two weeks, the DMV sent Ms. Neloms and Mr. Horsley a telework application that explicitly prohibited teleworkers from having sole responsibility for a dependent during the workday, a provision which is obviously incompatible with the parents’ need to work from home.
A few weeks after the school closure ended, the DMV offered all Hearing Examiners the same laptops that they used early in the pandemic and instructed them to take them home for use during inclement weather office closures. The DMV’s willingness to allow telework for some purposes, but not to accommodate family responsibilities, discriminated against Ms. Neloms and Mr. Horsley, forcing them to expend their personal leave and pay for unnecessary childcare.
In December 2022, we filed a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights alleging discrimination based on family responsibilities and seeking compensation for our clients and changes to the DMV telework policy so it does not disadvantage parents and caregivers.
In May 2023, DMV moved to dismiss the cases, arguing that because Ms. Neloms and Mr. Horsley did not receive responses from the two D.C. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselors whom they emailed for help, they had not fulfilled their obligation under D.C. regulation to "consult" an EEO counselor before filing. In DMV's view, Ms. Neloms and Mr. Horsley were required not just to contact, but to have a conversation with, a counselor in order to "consult" them. We argued in response that DMV's interpretation was an incorrect reading of the regulation’s text and would be deeply unfair, enabling D.C. to deprive discrimination plaintiffs of their right to file cases simply by instructing their EEO counselors not to respond when contacted. In June 2023, OHR rejected DMV's interpretation of the regulation and denied the motion to dismiss.