The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws against workplace discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Thus, the EEOC was essentially created to help resolve issues regarding workplace discrimination.
The EEOC engages in activities such as:
- Settling Workplace Complaints: Through mediation, a low cost alternative to the court system that 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 on the employee’s behalf for the employee’s discrimination claim; or
- 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 with the EEOC?
If you believe that you have been discriminated against at your place of employment, you may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. You can submit your complaint, or charge, against your employer online, by mail, or go to a local EEOC office.
If you choose to submit your complaint in person, the staff there will attempt to explain the process and help you determine if you have a valid workplace discrimination claim. While they do not process and assess your claim right there, they can help you figure out what steps to take if the EEOC is not the right place to assist you.
Your charge of discrimination may be filed on one the following grounds (also called “protected classes”): race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or retaliation.
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. The EEOC requires that you file a charge of discrimination and allow them to complete their investigation, before you can file a workplace discrimination lawsuit against your employer.
There are exceptions to the normal process of first having to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit with the EEOC, 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 notice of right to sue to file your lawsuit in court.
- You must only wait 60 days from the day you filed your charge of discrimination to proceed. However, you must still file the lawsuit within 90 days of the completion of the investigation by the EEOC; and
- 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 or obtain a notice of right to sue before filing your lawsuit with the court. Thus, you can immediately initiate your lawsuit within two years from the time of the discrimination or three years if the discrimination was willful.
Alternatively, if you wish to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit before the EEOC finishes their investigation, a process that may take longer than 180 days, you may request a notice of your right to sue from the EEOC. A notice of right to sue is provided either after completion of an investigation or dismissal of the charge filed with the EEOC.
It may also be obtained if more than 180 days have passed from the day you filed your charge of discrimination with the EEOC and you ask for the notice. In that case, the EEOC must give you the notice upon demand. Once you receive your right to sue from the EEOC, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days.
It is important to note, if you receive a notice of right to sue before the EEOC completes their investigation, then the investigation will stop and the EEOC will close the case. Thus, if you wish to allow the EEOC to initiate a lawsuit on your behalf, you should wait for them 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 serves in their efforts to combat workplace discrimination on a wider scale.
Should I Hire an Attorney for Assistance with an EEOC Discrimination Lawsuit?
Although not a requirement to filing a complaint with the EEOC, it may still be in your best interests to seek out an experienced and well-qualified employment attorney before proceeding with a workplace discrimination lawsuit.
A licensed and experienced employment attorney will help guide you through the often complicated notice process. They can also help you gather evidence for your case and represent you in front of a court of law, if your decide to proceed with the lawsuit against your employer.