The History of the EEOC

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 What is the EEOC?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a government agency that aims to eliminate discrimination from workplaces in the United States. The EEOC was created by the Civil Rights Act.

The EEOC, however, was only provided with limited power to punish employers that violate the law. In 1972, however, Congress provided the EEOC with the authority to sue employers.

From that point forward, the EEOC has been aggressively investigating and going after employers that are accused of engaging in discriminatory practices. The EEOC has been successful in taking cases all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The EEOC is an administrative agency which means that it is part of the executive branch of the United States government. Because of this, leaders of the EEOC are appointed by the President and are confirmed by the Senate.

The purpose of the EEOC is to enforce the numerous anti-discrimination laws which have been passed by the federal government, including the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The leadership of the EEOC includes 5 commissioners, 2 of which also hold the titles of chair and vice-chair.

The commissioners of the EEOC set the policies for the agency and vote on whether or not lawsuits will be filed. In addition to those leaders, the EEOC has a general counsel who also acts as the chief attorney for the organization.

The general attorney, or general counsel, reviews all current lawsuits as well as advises the lawyers in regional offices regarding employment law. The EEOC headquarters is located at the following address:

131 M Street NE
Washington, DC

What Can the EEOC Do?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is empowered to stop discrimination in the workplace. In addition, the EEOC attempts to educate the public regarding discrimination in the workforce and workplace.

Discrimination occurs when an employer’s conduct causes some disadvantage to an employee or to a potential employee based upon that employee’s:

  • Race;
  • Gender;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • National origin;
  • Age;
  • Disability; and/or
  • Sex.

These discrimination factors are referred to as immutable characteristics because an individual is born with those characteristics and cannot change them. Additionally, these factors do not hinder an employee’s ability to perform the essential tasks of their job in any way.

If a party wishes to sue their employer, they are required to submit a complaint to the EEOC. Once the complaint is received, the EEOC will investigate it and determine if it has merit.

If a claim is determined to have merit, the EEOC will either bring the claim or will issue the complaining party a right to sue letter which allows that party to sue the employer in federal court. The EEOC also has the power to sue an employer directly if they believe that employer is in violation of discrimination laws.

The EEOC is also able to investigate an employer on its own without requiring a complaint to be submitted. An EEOC investigator may pose as a job applicant in order to uncover discrimination.

This type of undercover work is typically conducted by two investigators who have the same qualifications and the same background except for a certain specific factor, for example, gender or race. An employer who hires one investigator but not the other may find themselves under further investigation.

How Has the EEOC Changed Over the Years?

There were several occurrences in the 1960’s which led to what is now called the Civil Rights Movement, including:

  • Social changes;
  • Television; and
  • Protesting in Birmingham, Alabama.

Because of these protests and the unrest which was present among individuals, President Kennedy sent the first ever civil rights bill to Congress. This bill would eventually evolve to become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

President Carter expanded the EEOC’s power in 1978. This expansion included the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

This act give the EEOC responsibility for investigating discrimination against pregnant women. In the 1980s however, the political leadership desired that the EEOC would give up cases where large classes of discriminated individuals were represented.

Instead of that occurring, the EEOC was limited to cases where individual employees submit complaints of discrimination at the local EEOC office.

The American with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. During this time, the EEOC continued to enforce the new act through cases in the Supreme Court.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the EEOC worked to slow the tide of discrimination that occurred against individuals of Middle Eastern origin or those who were perceived to be Muslim. The EEOC worked on this in spite of the fact that one of the offices which was located near the World Trade Center was destroyed by the attacks.

In addition, the EEOC increased its efforts to educate the public regarding discrimination in the workplace. Currently, the EEOC continues to be a positive force in ridding workplaces of what is sometimes difficult-to-notice discrimination.

What Offices Make Up the EEOC?

Underneath the commission of the EEOC, there are a number of offices, including:

  • The Office of Inspector General (OIG) works closely with the EEOC to ensure efficiency and accuracy. The OIG handles the following related to all EEOC projects:
    • investigations;
    • audits; and
    • inspections;
  • The Office of Federal Operations (OFO) reviews the EEOC policies related to equal employment opportunities and is a legal resource for administrative judges and other agencies;
  • The Office of Research, Information, and Planning (ORIP) look into how well the EEOC has been meeting its goals, and prepares the EEOC’s annual performance report; and
  • Other offices of the EEOC include:
    • The Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs;
    • The Office of the Chief Financial Officer;
    • Administrative Services; and
    • Many more offices.

Does EEOC Have a Call Center?

The EEOC opened a national call center in 2007 which has the ability to route parties to the appropriate local center. The toll free number the public can call is 1-800-669-4000.

The toll free number for individuals who have speech issues or have hearing loss is 1-800-669-6820. The EEOC created the National Contact Center to provide the public with 24-hour access to the EEOC as well as information regarding equal employment rights and concerns.

What Information Can I Obtain from the EEOC Call Center?

The EEOC National Contact Center has customer service representatives available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. these representatives can provide callers with information regarding the following:

  • EEOC and the statutes EEOC enforces;
  • EEOC training products and services;
  • The investigative process and mediation process;
  • Obtaining information pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act;
  • Other file disclosure requests; and
  • 24 hour access to general EEOC information.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Although the EEOC provides employees with the right to sue their employers in federal court and the EEOC can bring its own claim against employers, the EEOC agency itself does not represent an employee. The only individual who is qualified to adequately represent an employee is an experienced discrimination lawyer.

If you receive a right to sue letter from the EEOC, your attorney can assist you with gathering evidence for your case and will represent you in front of a court of law. It is important to note that you must file your lawsuit within 90 days of receiving that letter so you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible.

An employer that is under EEOC investigation should also consult with an employment lawyer who can help defend them against any claims that are brought. These types of cases can involve multiple categories and areas of law and defending against a claim of discrimination may be difficult and complex.

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