The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government agency that was created by the Civil Rights Act that enforces anti-discrimination laws in the United States. To begin, the EEOC was only provided with limited powers to punish employers that violated the laws.
Over the course of EEOC history, however, their powers were increased and they were provided with the authority to sue employers by Congress. Since then, the EEOC has aggressively investigated and gone after employers accused of engaging in discriminatory practices.
The EEOC has successfully taken cases all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.
What Can the EEOC Do?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is empowered to fight against discrimination in the workplace. In addition, the EEOC serves to educate the public about discrimination in the workforce and in the workplace.
Discrimination occurs in an employment setting when the conduct of an employer causes a disadvantage to an employee or to a potential employee based upon their:
- National origin;
- Disability; or
These discrimination factors are called immutable characteristics because individuals are born with them and are not able to change them. In addition, they do not interfere in any way with an employee’s ability to perform the essential tasks of their job.
If an employee wants to sue their employer, they have to submit a complaint to the EEOC. Once their complaint is received, the EEOC will investigate it and determine if the claim has merit.
If it is determined that the claim has merit, either the EEOC will bring the claim on the employee’s behalf or will issue them a right to sue letter. This letter allows them to sue their employer in federal court.
The EEOC may also sue an employer directly if they believe that the employer is violating discrimination laws. It is important to note that the EEOC is permitted to investigate employers on its own without a complaint being submitted.
In order to uncover whether discrimination is occurring, an EEOC investigator may pose as a job applicant. This type of undercover work is often engaged in by two investigators with the same qualifications and the same background aside from one certain factor, for example, their race.
If the employer hires one investigator but not the other, it may face further investigation.
What Laws Does the EEOC Enforce?
As previously noted, the EEOC enforces many different laws, especially employment discrimination laws. Since it was founded in 1964, there have been a number of laws passed that expand the scope and the enforcement abilities of the EEOC, including:
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964: This Act established the EEOC with a five-member commission with the mission to wipe out discrimination in the workplace;
- The commission was non-partisan;
- It worked to educate the community about discrimination;
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967: ADEA was enacted to protect those citizens between the ages of 40 and 65 from employment discrimination. The 1986 ADEA amendment adds protection for those workers over the age of 65;
- This act provided a major boost to the EEOC’s efforts in fighting age discrimination;
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA) of 1972: This Act reformed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in historic ways. It gave the EEOC the right to sue employers, so that the EEOC was no longer a tiger without teeth;
- The EEOA provided that schools and state and local governments could not discriminate;
- The EEOA reduced the number of employees needed to qualify for equal protection and increased the number of days employees could file claims;
- Several amendments in 1978: These amendments included the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which protected pregnant women. They also provided more power and authority to the EEOC to direct other government offices;
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990: The ADA gave the EEOC another tool for fighting discrimination in the nation’s courts;
- The Civil Rights Act amendment in 1991: This amendment allowed compensatory and punitive damages for discrimination classes. Unintentional discrimination cases also become easier to win, allowing the EEOC, as well as other parties, to bring more disparate impact cases;
- EEOC Education, Technical Assistance, and Training Revolving Fund Act (EETATRFA) of 1996: This Act provided the EEOC with improved educational tools. Educating the public about workplace discrimination is a powerful weapon that will prevent discrimination from happening in the first place; and
- The NO FEAR Act of 2002: This Act applied numerous anti-discrimination protections to federal agencies. The EEOC is in charge of implementing many of these changes.
What Are the Remedies for Violating EEOC Laws?
If an individual believes they have been a victim of workplace discrimination, they may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Complaints may be submitted to the EEOC:
- By mail; or
- At the local EEOC office.
Lawyers for job discrimination are best equipped to explain the process and well as possible remedies that may be available. What an individual may be eligible to receive if their claim is successful will depend on the types of losses, or damages, that were caused by the discrimination.
The process begins with an EEOC counselor attempting to resolve the issue informally. If this does not resolve the issue within 30 days, a formal complaint is lodged, which must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination.
The EEOC may attempt to use methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to try to solve the problem. If that is not successful, the EEOC will determine whether to dismiss the claim or investigate the incident.
Once the incident has been investigated, the EEOC may present an offer or solution to the employee. If the employee chooses not to accept this offer, they may request an administrative hearing, which is similar to a trial.
Following the hearing, an EEOC administrative judge will decide what kind of compensation the individual deserves. If the employee disagrees with the judge’s decision, they can appeal to the EEOC.
If the employee is still not satisfied, they have the right to file a civil action in a state or federal court. The employee must have a right to sue letter from the EEOC to be able to proceed with a civil action.
Available remedies for workplace discrimination may include:
- Payment for lost wages;
- Reinstatement to the previous work position after a wrongful termination, if the individual wants their old position back;
- Reinstatement of lost benefits, such as lost retirement benefits; or
- Changes to the company’s policies and practices.
If the EEOC determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it may file a lawsuit on the individual’s behalf and cover the costs, especially in cases where it serves their efforts to comeback workplace discrimination on a larger scale.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
The EEOC enforces anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, but it does this on behalf of the federal government and not on behalf of the victim of the discrimination. The only professional who is qualified to represent an employee is a discrimination lawyer.
If you have received a right to sue letter from the EEOC, your attorney will be able to help you gather evidence for your case and will represent you in court. You should consult with an attorney as soon as you can, as you only have 90 days to file a lawsuit after you receive your right to sue letter.
If you are an employer who is under investigation by the EEOC, you should consult with an employment lawyer for help defending against the claims against you. These cases often involve many areas of law, so defending these claims can be challenging and is best done by a professional.