Equal employment opportunity, or EEO laws, are a set of federal laws and regulations that prohibit workplace discrimination against both current and potential employees. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against a person for a number of reasons, including but not limited to their:
- Disability; and/ or
- Pregnancy status.
Additionally, employers are prohibited from retaliating against a person for:
- Complaining about discrimination;
- Filing a charge of discrimination; and/or
- Assisting with a discrimination investigation.
There are many ways in which employment discrimination can occur, including refusal to hire, termination, and/or harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, enforces these laws at the federal level. However, there are also corresponding state laws and agencies prohibiting discrimination and allowing for investigation and enforcement of the laws at the state level.
What Are Some Specific Equal Employment Opportunity Laws?
The following are some examples of specific federal EEO laws that protect individuals from discrimination in the workplace:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees, as well as potential employees, based on their race, color, religion, sex, and/or national origin. This act is a federal anti-discrimination law, and as such it applies to employers in private sectors as well as local, state, and federal governments;
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act: In employment law, the term pregnancy discrimination refers to when an employer discriminates against an employee or job applicant who is pregnant, has or will give birth, or is suffering from any other medical condition that is associated with pregnancy and/or childbirth.
- Essentially, the law forbids employers from discriminating against pregnant people in terms of any aspect of employment, such as terminations, promotions, payments, and/or maternity leave. An example of this would be how an employer may not layoff an employee simply because they are pregnant;
- Equal Pay Act: The Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) is what protects workers and employees from gender discrimination. The Act also states that employees are to be given equal pay for equal work. Another way of putting it is that employers are to pay workers equally for equal work that is done in the same company, regardless of their gender. The Equal Pay Act was initially created to protect employees who identified as women, specifically intended to address the unfair pay gap that women employees are subjected to.
- However, the courts have since ruled that the Act applies to all legally recognized genders, and that what they call “reverse discrimination against men” is also considered to be a violation;
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) is a federal law that protects people aged 40 and over from age discrimination in the workplace. This law applies to current employees, as well as job applicants. Some examples of when age discrimination may manifest in the workplace include decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, wages, and workplace conditions.
- However, the ADEA does not apply to all employers. Generally speaking, the ADEA only applies to private businesses that employ 20 or more people; federal government, state government, local government; employment agencies; and labor organizations; and
- Americans with Disabilities Act: The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal law intended to ensure that disabled people have the same rights and opportunities as those without disabilities. Passed by Congress in 1990, the Act prohibits discrimination against disabled people and is similar to the prohibition of discrimination based on national origin, race, and/or gender in the United States. This prohibition against discrimination extends to federal, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
- According to the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations in order to make employment and the workplace as accessible as possible to their disabled employees. Additionally, businesses are required to make reasonable accommodations in order to ensure access to disabled customers, and there are penalties in place for failure to comply with the requirements of the law.
EEO laws, both at the state and federal level, are constantly progressing and changing in order to address new discrimination issues. An example of this would be how some states now specifically have laws that apply to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Very simply put, as of June 15, 2020, the following types of discrimination are considered to be illegal and are explicitly protected by Title VII:
- Sexual orientation discrimination;
- Gender identity discrimination; and
- Gender discrimination.
Are There Any Legal Remedies For Equal Employment Opportunity Violations?
Once you file a complaint of discrimination with the EEOC, they will conduct an investigation; if they determine that discrimination occurred, they will attempt settlement of the charge. This could include:
- Money damages;
- Reinstatement of your job; and/or
- Sanctions against your employer.
If the case cannot be settled or remedied, the EEOC can sometimes file a lawsuit on your behalf. However, the agency will generally issue a right to sue letter.
You have 180-day period after the discrimination occurred in which to file a charge. However, if the discrimination occurred in a state or jurisdiction that prohibits that same discrimination, you have 300 days. For age discrimination complaints, you will only get 300 days if there is a local law in place prohibiting age discrimination, as well as a local agency that enforces the law.
You can submit your complaint online, by mail, or at a local EEOC office. If you go to a local office, the staff cannot process and assess your claim right there, but they can help you determine steps to take if the EEOC cannot help. It is important to note that you may also discuss your situation over the phone, but you cannot file a complaint over the phone.
After you file your complaint, you can check the status of your claim online. Within 10 days of filing the charge, a notice will be sent to your employer; as such, you should be prepared to agree to mediation. If the EEOC cannot help, the investigation will be closed and you should receive an explanation as to why.
If the mediation does not work, or if you were not sent to mediation, your employer will
be asked to respond to the complaint. Once they respond, you will receive a copy, and you must respond within 20 days from the date you receive your copy. The EEOC will then investigate the complaint. While the length of the investigation varies, it generally takes 10 months for the agency to investigate the claim. If you refuse mediation, you may reconsider it, as it can generally resolve a situation in as few as 3 months.
The EEOC has 180 days in which to resolve the complaint; otherwise, you will get a Right to Sue letter. You will need a Right to Sue letter if you file your claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, or under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, you do not need a Right to Sue letter if your complaint is filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the Equal Pay Act. It is imperative to note that there are statute of limitations on those claims, and you should be aware of them.
Do You Need An Attorney For Help With EEO Violations?
If you have experienced employment discrimination, you should contact an experienced and local discrimination lawyer to help you file an EEOC charge, and potentially a civil lawsuit. An area attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your rights and legal options under your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court as needed.