The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, is a federal agency which is tasked with combating discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC has the power to enforce a variety of anti-discrimination laws, including:
- The Civil Rights Act;
- The Americans with Disabilities Act; and
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
An employee who works for a covered employer is not permitted to sue for discrimination in a federal court without first going through the EEOC or other required state counterparts.
How Do I File a Complaint with the EEOC?
An individual may initiate a complaint with the EEOC by contacting an EEOC counselor within 45 days of the alleged discrimination. The counselor will advise the employee of their rights and attempt to informally resolve the matter.
If the issue is not resolved within 30 days, a formal complaint must be filed at the local EEOC office. This must be done, as noted above, within 18 days of the discrimination.
The EEOC will analyze the complain to determine if there is a chance discrimination occurred. If so, they will perform an investigation. The EEOC may offer the employee a solution to the issue.
If the employee does not accept this solution, they have the right to request an administrative hearing, which is similar to a trial. An EEOC administrative judge will make a determination regarding what type of compensation the employee deserves.
If the employee does not agree with the judge’s decision, they may appeal to the EEOC. If the employee is still not satisfied, they may file a civil action. However, they must have first obtained the Right to Sue letter. From this point, the case will follow the traditional process of a civil trial.
What is a “Right to Sue” Letter from the EEOC?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency in the United States which enforces federal laws that make discrimination related to employment illegal. When an individual notifies the EEOC that they believe they have been discriminated against by their employer, the EEOC investigates the claim and determines the validity of the allegations.
If an EEOC investigator determines that the allegations of employment discrimination have merit, then the EEOC is able to file a lawsuit against the employer who discriminated. Employees are able to claim they have been discriminated against based on several characteristics, including:
- National origin;
- Sex, including:
- Sexual orientation; and
- Gender identity issues;
- Age, for employees 40 and older;
- Retaliation; and
It is important to note that the EEOC typically only governs employers that have at least 15 employees. If the employee’s company does not meet this requirement, if they file a complaint with the EEOC, it will most likely be dismissed.
An individual is required to file their claim of discrimination with the EEOC, usually at the nearest office location, prior to being able to file a lawsuit for discrimination. The EEOC has the right to investigate the employee’s claim in order to determine its validity. In some cases, the EEOC may determine that discrimination has occurred and may sue the employer themselves.
If, however, the EEOC does not make a finding of discrimination based on the employee’s claim, they will issue the employee a Right to Sue letter, or EEOC notice of right to sue. Upon receiving this letter, the employee has the right to sue, or to file a discrimination lawsuit against their employer, even though the EEOC did not make a finding of discrimination.
How Do I Obtain a Right to Sue Letter?
In order to obtain a right to sue letter, and individual must file a charge of discrimination with their local EEOC office within 180 days of the discriminatory action, unless a state agency separately enforces against the type of discrimination the individual experienced. If a separate state agency enforces the type of discrimination the employee suffered, the have 300 days to file a charge.
It is important to note that there are different rules for federal employees. Additionally, any claim which is filed after the deadline will be dismissed automatically.
The EEOC office will then conduct an investigation regarding the alleged discrimination by examining documentation and speaking to witnesses, if any are available. The employer will be notified of the charges against them. The EEOC then has 180 days to notify the employee of their findings with a written decision.
If the EEOC does not make a finding of discrimination, the result will be a dismissal of the case along with the issuance of a right to sue letter. The employee will then have 90 days in which to file a lawsuit if that is what they desire to do.
If the EEOC makes a finding of discrimination, they will notify the employee of this in a written letter as well. Although the EEOC can sue the individual’s employer on their behalf, they do not often exercise this right.
Upon receiving notice of this determination, the employee still has the right to file a lawsuit themselves, without the assistance of the EEOC, within 90 days. If the employee misses the deadline, they may not be able to proceed with their lawsuit.
What are the Steps for Requesting a Right to Sue Letter?
An individual may request that the EEOC issue a Right to Sue letter prior to the 180 day deadline if they wish to proceed with a lawsuit. The EEOC will be required to respond accordingly to this request. However, they still have 180 days to complete their investigation.
Therefore, if an individual requests their Right to Sue letter prior to the 180 days passing, the EEOC will then cease the investigation of the case and the individual will not have the opportunity to determine whether or not discrimination actually occurred.
It is important to note that even if the individual requests their Right to Sue letter early, the EEOC deadline to file a lawsuit provides that they will still have only 90 days from the time it is received to file their lawsuit.
Are there Any Exceptions to the Waiting Period for a Right to Sue Letter?
There may be exceptions to the waiting period before a Right to Sue letter. For example, in cases of age discrimination, which are slightly different than those involving other types of discrimination, an individual is still required to file a complaint with the EEOC prior to filing a lawsuit. They are not, however, required to wait for their Right to Sue letter prior to doing so.
If an individual’s claim concerns equal pay based on their sex, they may file it under one of two laws. If the employee files under Title VII, the law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, the individual must still receive their Right to Sue letter prior to filing a lawsuit. However, this is not a requirement if the employee files under the Equal Pay Act.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an EEOC Letter?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an employment discrimination lawyer for help with your EEOC letter. Although it may be possible to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on your own, there are many reasons to have the assistance of an experienced attorney if you believe you have been the victim of workplace discrimination.
Your lawyer will be able to review your situation, determine what laws apply to the type of discrimination you experienced, and assist you with all aspects of your EEOC claim and lawsuit, if necessary. Your attorney can file the EEOC complaint for you, assist you through the process, and represent you during mediation if the parties agree to do so.
The EEOC often uses mediation as a means to resolve these types of complaints. Your attorney is your best chance at remedying your discrimination issue at your workplace.