The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a government agency that aims to eliminate workplace discrimination in the United States. The purpose of the EEOC is to enforce the numerous anti-discrimination laws passed by the federal government, including the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In particular, the EEOC is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws against the following “protected classes:”
- National origin
- Genetic information
- Sex, including:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity issues
When created, the EEOC was only given limited power to punish employers violating the law. So in 1972, Congress gave the EEOC the authority to sue employers. Since then, the EEOC has been aggressively investigating and going after employers accused of discriminatory practices.
The EEOC engages in activities such as:
- Settling workplace complaints through mediation: Mediation is a low-cost alternative to using the court system. Moreover, mediation provides the employer and employee with a chance to resolve their differences more amicably and preserve a better work environment
- Filing lawsuits: If a settlement between the parties is unsuccessful, the EEOC may file a lawsuit against the employer on the employee’s behalf for the employee’s discrimination claim
- Conduct investigations: The EEOC will investigate individual employment discrimination claims, gathering evidence of any workplace discrimination. The EEOC also investigates systematic patterns of workplace discrimination.
What Steps Must be Taken to File a Lawsuit Based on Discrimination?
If a party wishes to sue their employer in civil court, they must first submit a complaint to the EEOC. Once the complaint is received, the EEOC will investigate it and determine its merit. If the EEOC finds evidence of discrimination, the first step will be to attempt to resolve the matter informally. If the issue is not resolved within 30 days, a formal complaint may be filed at the local EEOC office.
So, if you believe that you have been discriminated against at your place of employment, you must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. (A charge of discrimination is a signed statement requesting the EEOC to take remedial action against an employer, union, or labor organization that engaged in employment discrimination.) You can submit your charge against your employer online, by mail, or in person at a local EEOC office.
If you submit your complaint in person, the staff there will explain the process to you and help you determine if you have a valid workplace discrimination claim. While they do not process and assess your claim, they can help you determine what steps to take if the EEOC is not the right place to assist you. This can save a lot of time and effort. If your claim is inappropriate for the EEOC to investigate, it makes things much smoother if you know that from the outset and don’t wait for the EEOC to deny your claim.
There are exceptions to the requirement of first having to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit with the EEOC before you can sue in court, including:
- Age Discrimination lawsuits (“ADEA”): If you plan to file an age discrimination lawsuit, you still must file the initial charge of discrimination with the EEOC, but you do not need to request a right-to-sue letter to file your lawsuit in court. Rather, you simply wait 60 days from the day you filed your charge of discrimination, and then you can proceed, so long as you file the lawsuit within 90 days of completing the EEOC’s investigation.
- In cases of age discrimination, which are slightly different than those involving other types of discrimination, an individual must file a complaint with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit. However, They are not required to wait for their right-to-sue letter before doing so.
- Equal Pay lawsuits (“EPA”): If you plan to file a lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, you don’t have to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC first or wait to obtain a right-to-sue letter before filing your lawsuit with the court. Thus, you can immediately initiate your lawsuit. You must, however, file your complaint with the court within two years from the time of the discrimination or three years if the discrimination was willful.
If an individual’s claim concerns equal pay based on 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 before filing a lawsuit. However, this is not a requirement if the employee files under the Equal Pay Act.
The EEOC’s investigation may take longer than six months. There is a method of gaining permission to file a civil lawsuit before completing the investigation. You may request an early right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.
Normally, this letter is only issued after the completion of an EEOC investigation or dismissal of the charge filed with the EEOC, but It may also be obtained if more than 180 days have passed from the day you filed your charge of discrimination with the EEOC. In that case, the EEOC must give you the letter upon demand. Once you receive your right-to-sue papers from the EEOC, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days.
It is important to note that if you receive a notice of right-to-sue before the EEOC completes its investigation, the investigation will stop, and the EEOC will close the case. Thus, if you hope that the EEOC will initiate a lawsuit on your behalf or that the results of the EEOC investigation will show that you have indeed been discriminated against, you should wait for the EEOC to complete their investigation.
Upon a finding that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred, the EEOC may initiate a lawsuit on your behalf and cover the costs, especially if it furthers its efforts to combat workplace discrimination on a wider scale.
Should I Hire an Attorney for Assistance with an EEOC Discrimination Lawsuit?
Yes. It is essential to have the assistance of an employment discrimination lawyer for help with an EEOC discrimination lawsuit. 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, assist you through the process, and represent you during mediation if the parties agree to negotiate.
A licensed and experienced employment attorney will help guide you through the often complicated process. An attorney can also help you gather evidence for your case and represent you in front of a court of law if you decide to proceed with a lawsuit against your employer.