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File a complaint about illegal discrimination

SOCR Chapter 40: Practice and Procedure in Discrimination Cases
Information for Business Owners

Intake Questionnaire - The First Step

If you feel you have been discriminated against, call SOCR at 206-684-4500 to speak with our intake investigator. You also can visit our office in the Central Building, 810 Third Avenue, Suite 750 in downtown Seattle.

To help us learn more about your situation, please fill out the Intake Questionnaire. You can fill it out online and send it to us electronically, or you can print out a copy, fill it out and mail it to us. To avoid delays in processing, please submit only one Intake Questionnaire to SOCR (either by mail, online, or in person) regarding the same matter.

The questionnaire provides us with information we can use to help us serve you. It is not a formal complaint. Once we receive your completed questionnaire, we will review it and then contact you for more information. You do not have to fill out the questionnaire in order to contact us about filing a charge.

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights has jurisdiction within Seattle city limits. A charge of illegal discrimination must be filed within 180 days of the date that the incident under consideration occurred. If your situation does not qualify for investigation by us, we will refer you to another agency for help.

Where to Find Help

Other civil rights agencies:

SOCR's intake investigator will help you sort through the facts of your situation, and describe to you your options under the law. The intake investigator will explain the definition of illegal discrimination. Different treatment does not necessarily mean illegal discrimination. To be discriminatory under the law, a person's action must meet certain tests, such as:

  1. The action must be based on your belonging to a protected class.

    Seattle currently includes these protected classes:

    • Age **
    • Ancestry
    • Breastfeeding in a public place
    • Color
    • Creed
    • Disability
    • Gender identity
    • Marital status
    • National Origin
    • Parental status *
    • Political ideology
    • Race
    • Religion
    • Sex
    • Sexual orientation
    • Use of a Section 8 certificate *
    • Use of a service animal
    • Military status or Veteran

    * - Not applicable to Employment or Fair Contracting cases
    ** - Not applicable to Public Accommodations cases

  2. The action has to be unequal. Someone has to treat you differently from other people in a similar situation.
  3. The action must result in adverse consequences. In other words, you must have been harmed by the action.

If your situation appears to meet these tests, then the intake investigator will draw up a formal charge for you to sign. The final decision to file a charge is yours.

If your situation does not appear to meet the tests, the intake investigator may take one of the following actions:

  • Explain why your case does not meet the legal test for an investigation.
  • Refer you to another agency for help - for example, if your claim has occurred outside the jurisdiction of the City of Seattle, or ifou need advocacy or y legal assistance.

The charge document that you sign will refer to you as the Charging Party - in other words, the person making the charge of discrimination.


The Investigation

After you sign a charge, SOCR will contact the person who has been accused of discrimination, known as the Respondent. SOCR will send the Respondent a copy of the charge document, as well as a request for information and a written response to the charge.

We try to assign your case to an investigator within 30 days after you have signed the charge document. Often this step occurs much sooner. In some circumstances, however, it can take longer. Housing discrimination cases are assigned immediately. After assignment, an investigator will contact you to confirm that the case is now active.

After receiving a reply from the Respondent, the assigned investigator will meet with you to discuss your case, and to explain our investigation process in more detail.

Before you meet with your investigator for the first time, note the details of what happened to you, including the dates, times, and who was present or involved. Make a list of possible witnesses, including their phone numbers and addresses.

The investigator gathers evidence by conducting interviews, obtaining witness statements, and reviewing written information. As the Charging Party, you must prove that illegal discrimination has taken place. The investigator will explain the "elements" of your case that you must prove.

The average length of an SOCR investigation is six months (100 days for HUD cases). Each case is different, and cases may take more or less time depending on the circumstances.


Facilitated Resolution Process - An Option for Both Parties

Throughout the investigation of your case, SOCR is willing to help you and the Respondent reach an agreement that is acceptable to both sides. We call this our Facilitated Resolution Process (FRP). Depending on the circumstances, the agreement might involve changes in working conditions, apartment repairs, training for the respondent's management and employees, and other terms designed to resolve the case.

During this period of negotiation, the investigation may be slowed or suspended. If both parties agree to a resolution, SOCR prepares a settlement agreement for everyone to sign. If the parties cannot agree to a resolution, then the investigation continues.


SOCR - A Neutral Party

It is important to understand SOCR's role of neutrality during the filing, investigation and resolution of your claim. SOCR does not take sides in a case. We do not "speak for" the Charging Party; nor do we "represent" the Respondent. Our job is to enforce the City of Seattle's anti-discrimination laws. We strive to be fair, honest and impartial.


Case Conclusions

Settlement: If you reach an agreement with the Respondent through our Facilitated Resolution Process, your investigator will prepare a Settlement Agreement for you and the Respondent to sign.

Administrative Closure: SOCR may close your case if the investigation proves impossible to proceed. For example, if SOCR is unable to locate you, if you refuse to cooperate, or if you choose to file your case in court, SOCR may end the investigation through Administrative Closure.

Withdrawal: You can end the investigation and withdraw your case.

Determination ("Finding"): When the investigator has finished looking into your case, SOCR will issue a determination or finding. SOCR issues two types of findings, "reasonable cause" or "no reasonable cause." A finding of "reasonable cause" means that enough evidence was found to determine that discrimination took place in your case. (See "Remedies" below.) A finding of "no reasonable cause" means there is not enough evidence to support your claim under the law. You can appeal a "no reasonable cause" finding within 30 days of issuance. (See "Appeal" below.) The Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights has the final say in all cases for a "reasonable cause" or "no reasonable cause" finding.


Public Disclosure

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights honors public disclosure requests according to the City of Seattle's Public Disclosure Policy (11/3/09).

To make a public disclosure request (PDR) or for more information, contact SOCR's public disclosure officer Elliott Bronstein at

Visit the City of Seattle public disclosure web portal.



In cases where SOCR finds reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred, we will work with you to determine appropriate remedies for the effects of the discrimination. Examples of remedies include:

  • Requiring the Respondent to repay lost money or benefits, such as wages, rent payments, etc.
  • Requiring the Respondent to make payments for pain and suffering (within the limits of City of Seattle laws)
  • Drafting settlement terms that serve the public interest, such as requiring management and employees to receive training, or requiring a company to revise its policies and procedures to protect against discrimination.

If the Respondent refuses to settle the case after a finding of reasonable cause, SOCR will refer your case to the City Attorney's office for possible legal action. You may choose to take private legal action at this time, or at any time during the investigation. You are responsible for your own attorney's fees.



If SOCR finds no reasonable cause in your case, or ends the investigation through Administrative Closure, you can appeal the decision within 30 days to the Seattle Human Rights Commission. The Commission can order the case back to SOCR with specific instructions for further investigation, or the Commission may agree with SOCR's determination.

Note: appeal rules differ in cases in which the City of Seattle is the Respondent.

How to file an appeal with the Seattle Human Rights Commission of a "No Reasonable Cause" decision


What you can do to assist the Investigation

  • Schedule your appointments in advance and arrive on time. If you will be late, call to let us know.
  • Notify us about any changes to your address or telephone number(s).
  • It is a good idea to give SOCR the name and phone number of an alternate contact person for you. This person should know how to reach you if we are unable to contact you ourselves.
  • Give us advance notice if you will be out of town for a long period of time. SOCR may close your case if we are unable to contact you after 30 days.
  • Please claim all certified mail at the post office in a timely fashion. SOCR uses certified mail to send you important documents that require your immediate attention.
  • Share all information and possible witnesses associated with your case with your investigator. Document and report any new or additional information.
  • Let us know about any discrimination charges that you have filed in the past.
  • If you take separate legal action regarding your charge, notify SOCR right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should I file a complaint?

    You should contact our office as soon as possible after the incident(s). The longer you wait, the more difficult the investigation can become. You must file your complaint with SOCR within 180 days of the incident. SOCR cannot accept cases that are more than 180 days old.

  • What will it cost me to file a complaint?

    All of SOCR's services, including case investigations, are free of charge.

  • What can I do to help my case?

    Gather as much evidence as you can to give to SOCR's investigator. Write down the details of what happened to you, including dates, times, people involved, as well as names of possible witnesses. Keep a running log of events, especially if this is an on-going situation. Be sure and save anything in writing that relates to your case.

  • If I file a complaint, will the details be made public?

    While a case is still under investigation, no information can be released. After a case is closed, some information can be released, but only through a written Public Disclosure Request.

  • What if they retaliate against me after I file a complaint?

    Retaliation and harassment are both illegal. If it occurs, you can file another complaint. SOCR investigates complaints involving retaliation and harassment regardless of the findings or outcome of the original complaint.

  • Can I file a complaint about police misconduct with SOCR?

    You can file a complaint about police conduct by contacting SOCR at 206-684-4500. We will document your complaint and file it with the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). OPA is the office within the Seattle Police Department that investigates complaints about police misconduct. The office is headed by a civilian. OPA will review your complaint and follow-up with you. More information .

  • Filing a Complaint with SOCR: A Step by Step Guide

    This and all information produced by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights will be provided in alternative formats to people with disabilities upon request.

    If you have questions, comments or requests about our services please contact our office at (206) 684-4500 voice, (206) 684-4503 TTY or send email to Elliott Bronstein.