This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Plaza America that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement, and private sector employee matters.
By John V. Berry, Esq.
Employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia have a number of forums for potentially filing a sexual harassment complaint. First, employees must determine whether the facts in their case constitute sexual harassment. The general definition of sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is that it includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
The harassment victim can be either a woman or a man. Additionally, the harassment victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. That being said, sexual harassment does not always have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s gender/sex. Harassing an individual by making offensive comments about his or her gender can constitute sexual harassment. Additionally, when more minor comments or teasing are made on a continuing basis, a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment can arise. Additional EEOC regulations and guidance on sexual harassment can be viewed here.
Harassment Complaints for Federal Employees in Virginia
For federal employees in Virginia, the usual method of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging sexual harassment is to go through their federal agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the date of the harassment. This very short deadline can usually be satisfied by initiating contact directly with a federal EEO counselor. Federal agencies will provide contact information for federal EEO complaint counselors to federal employees. The formal complaint process involving the claims of sexual harassment will follow thereafter if the matter is not resolved. There are also other less common routes for filing a federal employee sexual harassment complaint, such as filing a grievance (where permitted, but not usually recommended) and/or a complaint though the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), but these are usually not effective when compared to a federal employee’s options for filing an EEO complaint.
Harassment Complaints for Private Sector Employees in Virginia
For employees who are employed by private companies in Virginia, there are a number of potential options for filing a sexual harassment complaint depending on where they live and the size of their employer. A private sector employee employed by a company with 15 employees or more may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the most common route for those employed by private companies. The deadline for doing so in Virginia is generally 180 days, which can be extended to 300 days due to a work-sharing agreement between Virginia and the EEOC.
A private sector employee can also usually file a sexual harassment complaint with the Virginia Division of Human Rights (DHR) if their employer has 6 to 14 employees, but less than 15. Additionally, if the matter involves a government contractor, a private sector employee can also file a harassment complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), but this complaint process is rarely used. Lastly, some counties and municipalities in Virginia have enacted harassment ordinances, such as Fairfax County and Arlington County, which also have procedures for filing complaints against employers. The deadlines for county filings can vary between 180 and 365 days depending on the county. In sum, it is important to figure out the correct forum and to file a claim well in advance of any deadlines.
Harassment Complaints for State Employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia
State employees who are employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia have somewhat different sexual harassment complaint options. These include the possibility of filing a complaint with the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Services (OEES) or the EEOC. The current Executive Order governing state employees was issued in 2014. State employees should consult with an attorney before deciding which forum is best for their sexual harassment complaint.
Harassment Complaints for County and Local Employees in Virginia
Finally, employees of Virginia’s various counties and municipalities also have options for filing a sexual harassment complaint. They may typically file harassment complaints with the EEOC, or if covered by their county or municipality, a local claim. By far, the majority of county employees take their cases to the EEOC and then to the court, if their matter is not resolved.
Talk to an Attorney to Determine the Best Forum
It is very important to speak with an attorney before choosing a forum in which to file a sexual harassment complaint since the correct forum for filing complaints can vary based on the facts of the claim, location and size of the employer, and nature of the employer. If you need assistance with filing a sexual harassment complaint, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.
Alissa Buoni says her 5-year-old daughter is always starting sentences with “When I grow up.”
“It just got me thinking,” Buoni said. “There are some pros to being an adult, but [my daughter] should really enjoy being a kid.”
With that thought in mind, the 2002 South Lakes High School graduate penned her first children’s book, “Oh, The #Adulting You’ll Do.” The book reminds children, Buoni said, that there are a lot of responsibilities associated with the fun of being an adult.
“Trust me, you’ll get to a point where you can make those [grown-up] decisions for yourself, but there’s sort of a price for that,” she said. “It’s not meant to scare kids from adulthood either, because … obviously there’s things adults enjoy about being adults. But you can’t go backward in time, so enjoy the moment.”
Buoni said she used the hashtag in the book when describing “adulting” as a nod to the parents, because it’s a term that is often used on social media.
“I’m on Instagram, I’m on a lot of social media, and I see my friends being like, ‘Ugh, I have to #adult today,” she said. “It’s this dreaded thing, like I’m paying my car bill or I have to go do this and that — boo to #adulting. … It follows throughout the book, kids are going to get to this stuff too.”
Buoni worked in government contracting for several years and also received a master’s degree in school counseling. She is now a stay-at-home mom, with children ages 5, 2 and 1. She says she gets ideas for writing topics from them constantly.
“[Writing] became sort of an outlet at home,” she said. “They inspire me a lot with that day-to-day fun stuff.”
Published by Rocket Science Productions, the book came together quickly once the ball started rolling, Buoni said. Now she calls holding the finished product in her hands “surreal.”
“It was definitely a process, never having done this before,” she said. “It’s been fun, and I like seeing it come to life. But it’s a lot of work, obviously.”
Buoni’s first child, Kendrick, tragically passed away in 2009. The loss of her son to complications of Heterotaxy syndrome and congenital heart disease has inspired her donate a portion of sales to Children’s National Hospital. Buoni has written a book on the topic of loss in families, “Make a Wish for Me,” that is scheduled to be released in April.
“Oh, The #Adulting You’ll Do” features illustrations by Kosta Gregory, a Boston-based artist. The book is currently available for purchase on Buoni’s website as well as on Amazon and other sites. It can also be downloaded through iTunes.
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Editor’s Note: February is Black History Month. Reston Now recently asked Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, who has lived in Reston since 1969, to share her memories of arriving in the community after her family had difficulty finding acceptance in other places.
“[My two sons] went to school here, but schools were different. They were Virginia schools and we really did have to do some work as parents, as well as as a community. This community was very overt in saying to the Fairfax County school system, ‘Equity is not here.’ We saw overt discrimination and we had to speak up.”
“Lake Anne Elementary was the first school built here, and a group of families… realized that the history of Virginia that [schools were] teaching kids was not the history of real Virginia, and we don’t want our kids to learn just one side. This is not just African-American families, all families were saying that. ‘This isn’t the history.’ And so they went out and said, ‘We’ll help you create a curriculum, because this isn’t what we want.’ Those kinds of things took place often.”
“Coming here, we found it very welcoming. We found people who were looking for the same thing that we were looking for, and that was to be able to bring our children and raise them here. [The children] got the opportunity to not only live with people like them, but with people of all different environments. That was the richness of what I think this has done for us as a family. It has been, I think, what makes Reston one of the really great places to live.”
Do you have a personal story about Black History in Reston you would like to share? Please contact [email protected].
The water in Lake Anne was 38 degrees Saturday, but that didn’t stop nearly 200 people from making a “splash” for charity.
The 10th annual Virginia Polar Dip at Lake Anne raised $75,000 for Camp Sunshine, organizers announced at the conclusion of the day’s festivities. A total of 198 people, many dressed in colorful costumes, leapt from the dock to show their support of the cause.
The dry onlookers cheered from the plaza as plungers — some solo, some in groups; some tentatively, some with backflips and cannonballs — took the chilly dive.
Curtis Ellor of Reston had participated in the event every year since its inception, but was forced to miss it last year after an operation. He was excited to get back into the water, continuing the tradition of diving along with his guitar.
“It’s wonderful,” Ellor said. “[It’s] for the kids.”
One of those kids was Mathias, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma when he was 11 and died at the age of 13. Team Mathias, represented by a large group of jumpers from around Loudoun and Fairfax counties, has participated in the event for four years and has raised thousands of dollars for Camp Sunshine.
“Team Mathias’s mission is to support cancer families, siblings and parents — we do care packages for them,” said Emily Kelly of Herndon. “This year we raised almost $5,000 [for the plunge].”
Kelly said the event is a special chance to help kids and families who need a pick-me-up while battling a life-threatening illness.
“It’s special, it really is,” she said. “This is why we do this.”
Lake Anne Plaza merchants banded together during the event. Some, including Lake Anne Brew House and Kalypso’s, participated in the plunge itself. They and many others also offered specials throughout the day and donated a portion of the proceeds to the cause.
Organizers said the money raised from this year’s event will support an entire week of services at Camp Sunshine, which is located in Casco, Maine. It is the only year-round program in the nation designed to serve the entire family.
The $75,000 raised this year brings the total amount raised during the event’s 10 years to nearly $700,000.
A man was assaulted and robbed while walking his dog last week at the Winterthur Apartments, police say.
According to the Fairfax County Police Department, the 28-year-old man and his dog were walking at about 10:50 p.m. Thursday in the 11900 block of Winterthur Lane. The neighborhood is off Colts Neck Road, just north of Hunters Woods Village Center.
According to the man, he saw a woman running from four Hispanic men. One of the running men stopped the chase and “assaulted the man’s dog,” according to police. All four then turned their attention on the man and his dog, he said.
“One displayed a knife while the others repeatedly assaulted both [the 28-year-old] and the dog,” according to police.
The suspects allegedly stole the man’s cellphone before fleeing the scene. The victim sustained minor injuries, police said, and the dog escaped harm.
No further descriptions of the suspected assailants were provided.
High Winds Cause Power Outages — Winds up to 60 mph have been striking the area, and a high-wind warning from the National Weather Service remains in effect until 6 p.m. tonight. More than 13,000 customers are reported without power this morning in Northern Virginia, including a handful in Reston. [Dominion Power]
‘Adopt a Hydrant’ Program Underway — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue is asking residents and business owners to maintain the areas around fire hydrants. Hydrants must be free of snow and ice in the winter, and free of weeds, leaves and shrubbery in warmer weather. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue]
Teachers Likely to See More in Paychecks — The Virginia General Assembly is entering the final two weeks of its session, and it looks like teachers will get raises. The Senate budget plan provides raises for teachers, while the House would give schools more unrestricted money that could be used for raises. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has also proposed a 1.5 percent bonus for teachers and state workers. [WTOP]
Photo of sunrise over Reston this morning via Twitter user @JGS3584