The Commission enforces the Rhode Island antidiscrimination laws in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and delivery of services. Through impartial investigation, formal and informal resolution efforts, predetermination conferences and administrative hearings, the Commission seeks to ensure due process for both complainants (charging parties) and respondents (those against whom charges are filed), to provide redress for victims of discrimination, and to properly dismiss cases against businesses and individual respondents when charges of discrimination lack evidentiary support.
The employment* and public accommodations statutes prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment), disability, ancestral origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and age. The credit statute, in addition to prohibiting discrimination on these bases, also prohibits discrimination based on marital status, familial status, military status, and association with members of a protected class. The housing statute covers all of the previously mentioned areas in addition to status as a victim of domestic abuse, housing status, and lawful source of income. Click here for a chart of all protected categories.
*The employment statute also prohibits discrimination on the basis of conviction status (questioning an applicant about his/her criminal record prior to an initial interview), with certain exceptions.
Intake involves the receipt and evaluation of inquiries. If an allegation is jurisdictional, a formal charge of discrimination is filed and forwarded to the respondent. Investigators conduct an impartial analysis of evidence obtained from both parties; they compare all elements of the case and they attempt to negotiate a resolution/settlement. Where resolution is not achieved, investigators make a recommendation on the merits of the charge to a Preliminary Investigating Commissioner ("PIC"). The PIC makes a formal ruling as to whether there is "Probable Cause" or "No Probable Cause" in respect to the allegations of the charge.
Upon a Probable Cause ruling, the Commission attempts to conciliate the matter. The parties have the opportunity to elect to bring the matter to Superior Court. Where conciliation is unsuccessful, and the parties have elected to proceed at the Commission, an administrative hearing takes place. At the administrative hearing, evidence is admitted and sworn testimony is heard before a Commissioner; a court stenographer also is present. The Commission renders a formal Decision and Order following an administrative hearing. If discrimination is found, the Commission orders appropriate remedies and awards appropriate damages.
The Commission was created and empowered in 1949 by Title 28, Chapter 5 of the General Laws of Rhode Island (R.I.G.L.). The Commission has been given statutory responsibility to enforce the following laws:
In addition to enforcing state laws, the Commission has contractual agreements with the federal government (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)) to assist in the enforcement of the following federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VIII of the 1968 Civil Rights Act (federal Fair Housing Act). Through the agreements with EEOC and HUD, the Commission can investigate charges which fall under both state and federal jurisdiction.