Federal law forbids your employer to discriminate against you on the basis of your race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or religion. It also forbids your employer from retaliating against you for bringing a claim of discrimination or otherwise opposing discrimination. In addition, depending on your jurisdiction, state law may provide you with protection from other kinds of discrimination, such as discrimination because of your sexual orientation.
Because federal law is complex and state and local law vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, it is important to make an informed choice about where to file. To bring a case in federal court, a private sector employee must first file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), although many state agencies allow you to “cross file” with both the state and the EEOC. (Federal employees have different requirements, and must contact an EEO counselor at their agency within 45 days. They do not have the option of going to state court.) In some states, the only real recourse is to file in federal court. Fortunately, in the District of Columbia and some counties in Maryland, there are strong discrimination laws and the courts may in some cases may be more responsive than the federal courts.
Acting quickly and consulting an experienced attorney is the surest way to protect your rights, since there is often only a short window of opportunity in which to bring a case within the statute of limitations.