What is the EEOC?

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is a federal agency tasked with combating discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC has the regulatory powers 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 cannot sue for discrimination in federal court without first going through the EEOC and/or its state counterparts.

The process below describes how to file a complaint with the EEOC and what to expect after that.

How Do I File a Complaint with the EEOC?

The EEOC process begins with the employee contacting an EEOC counselor within 45 days of the alleged discrimination. The counselor will ask about the details of the incident, and will be the first gateway through which the story of discrimination must pass.  The counselor will advise the person of his or her rights, and will try to informally resolve the matter. 

If the matter cannot be resolved within 30 days, a formal complaint must be lodged at an EEOC field or district office. Instructions on how to file with the EEOC can be found here. The charge must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination. The EEOC may make available Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to try to solve the problem.

If this does not work, the EEOC will analyze the complaint itself, to see if the law seems to support the charge. The EEOC may dismiss a claim if, from the given facts, there is no chance of discrimination.

The next step is for the EEOC to launch an investigation into the incident. This includes interviewing witnesses, requesting documents, and collecting any other evidence of discrimination. The EEOC may present an offer or solution to the employee.

If the employee does not accept the offer, he or she has the right to request an “administrative hearing,” which is like a trial. An EEOC administrative judge will make a decision as to what kind of compensation the person deserves. If the employee does not agree with the decision, he or she can appeal to the EEOC.

If the employee still does not agree, he or she has 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 in order to proceed with this civil action. From here, the case follows the traditional process of civil procedure.

What if I Don’t Hear Back From the EEOC Even Though I Filed a Complaint?

By law, the EEOC must reply to a complaint within ninety (90) days of receiving the complaint. After the ninety days, the EEOC must investigate the complaint, dismiss it, or give the employee a letter permitting the employee to go to federal court to resolve the dispute.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Although the EEOC gives employees the right to sue in federal court and the EEOC can bring its own claims against employers, the EEOC itself does not represent employees. Only an experienced employment attorney can adequately represent an employee in these complex litigation matters.