The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the name of the United States agency that enforces federal laws which make discrimination related to employment illegal. When someone notifies the EEOC that they believe they have been discriminated against by their employer, the EEOC will investigate the allegations to determine their validity. If an EEOC investigator determines that allegations of employment discrimination have merit, then the EEOC has the ability to file a lawsuit against the employers who discriminated.

People may claim they have been discriminated against based on their: race, color, national origin, sex (includes pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity issues), disability, age (40 and older), retaliation and religion. It’s important to note that the EEOC generally covers only companies with at least 15 employees. If your company does not meet this requirement, if you file a charge, it will likely be dismissed.

You must file your claim of discrimination with the EEOC (generally with the nearest office) before you are free to file a lawsuit for discrimination. The EEOC has the right to investigate the claim to determine its validity. The EEOC may find that discrimination has occurred and sue your employer themselves.

However, if they do not make a finding of discrimination based on your claim, they will issue you a “Right to Sue” letter. Upon receiving this letter, you are free to file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer, even though the EEOC did not make a finding of discrimination.

How Do I Obtain a Right to Sue Letter?

You must first file a charge of discrimination with your local EEOC office (there are different rules for federal employees) within 180 days of the discriminatory event, unless a state agency separately enforces against the type of discrimination you experience. Then you have 300 days. A charge that is filed past the deadline will be dismissed automatically

The EEOC office will then conduct an investigation by examining documentation and speaking to witnesses, if any. Your employer will be notified of the charges. The EEOC has 180 days to notify you of their findings with a written decision.

If they do not make a finding of discrimination, the result will be a dismissal of your case, along with a “Right to Sue” letter. You will then have 90 to file a lawsuit if that is what you wish to do.

If the EEOC does make a finding of discrimination, they will notify you of this in a letter as well. However, although the EEOC could, at this point, sue your employer on your behalf, they do not often exercise this right.

Upon receiving notice of this determination, you still have the right to file a lawsuit yourself (without the help of the EEOC) within 90 days. If you miss the deadline, you may not be able to go forward with your lawsuit.

What are the Steps for Requesting a Right to Sue Letter?

You can ask that the EEOC issue a Right to Sue letter before the 180 days deadline if you want to go ahead and file a lawsuit. The EEOC will be required to respond to this request accordingly. However, they have 180 days to complete their investigation.

Therefore, if you request the letter before the 180 days pass, then the EEOC will cease their investigation of your case, and will not have a chance to determine whether discrimination actually occurred. Even if you request your Right to Sue early, though, you will still have only 90 days from the time you receive it to file a lawsuit.

Are there Any Exceptions to the Waiting Period for a Right to Sue Letter?

Age discrimination cases are slightly different than cases involving other types of discrimination. Although you still have to file a charge with the EEOC prior to filing a lawsuit, you do not have to wait for the Right to Sue letter before doing so.

If you claim concerns equal pay based on your sex, you can file it under one of two laws. If you file under Title VII, the law that prevents discrimination based on sex, you must still receive the Right to Sue letter before filing a lawsuit. However, this is not required if you file under the Equal Pay Act, instead.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an EEOC Letter?

Although it is possible to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on your own, there are a number of reasons to seek the assistance of an experienced employment lawyer if you believe you have experienced workplace discrimination. The lawyer will understand the laws that apply to the type of discrimination you experienced.

They can file the EEOC charge for you, guide you through the process, and represent you in mediation if the parties agree to it (the EEOC often attempts to resolve these charges through mediation). The lawyer can also represent you in court if you choose to proceed with a lawsuit.