The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that enforces federal anti-discrimination labor laws. The EEOC investigates complaints and punishes employers who violate these labor laws. If you think you have been the victim of discrimination, you must file your discrimination claim with the EEOC before you can take your employer to court.
Many states have their own agencies that enforce state discrimination labor laws. You might want to file your claim with your state agency just to make sure your state’s laws protect you. In many states, you can also ask the EEOC to “cross-file” your complaint with your state agency.
How do I file a charge?
Call your local equal employment opportunity commission office (the number should be in the “Government” section of the phone book). You will be asked to complete a questionnaire and have an interview with an EEOC employee who will formally file your “charge”. If you think you have been the victim of more than one type of discrimination or harassment (e.g. race and sex), put each type of discrimination in your charge. After your charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate your claim.
A labor law attorney who specializes in employment law (an employment attorney) can help you with this process. How long do I have to file the claim? The deadline for filing a charge with the EEOC depends on where you are. In some states it is 180 days after your employer’s last act of discrimination. In other states it is 300 days from your employer’s last act of discrimination. The last act of discrimination means the last thing your employer did to you that you think was discriminatory.
For many people, the last act of discrimination might be their termination. For others, it is the date of demotion, suspension or other bad treatment. Some state agencies have longer time limits. So even if you “missed the deadline” for filing a claim with the EEOC, you should check with your state’s discrimination agency to see if you can still file a claim there.
After you file a charge, the equal employment opportunity commission generally conducts an investigation. It begins by sending your employer a notice saying that you have complained of discrimination and asking for a response. After the EEOC receives your employer’s response, it may decide to interview witnesses and subpoena documents from your employer. When the EEOC finishes its investigation, it will decide whether any discrimination actually happened. If it decides that your employer violated the law, it will try to help you settle your case. There are many “remedies” that might be included in your settlement. For example, the settlement could include reinstatement to your former job if you were fired, “back pay” for the time you were away from work, discrimination prevention training for the employer or its employees, or even a requirement that your former employer provide you with a letter of recommendation in case you decide that you do not want to return to work for the employer.
If the case doesn’t settle, the EEOC will likely give you a “right-to-sue” letter. You may then file a labor lawsuit against your employer. If the EEOC decides that your employer has not broken any anti-discrimination laws, it will still send you a right-to-sue letter. If you do file a lawsuit, the court might be persuaded by the EEOC’s view of your case, but you will not lose automatically just because the EEOC did not think you were discriminated against. If you are in a hurry to get to court, you also can request a right-to-sue letter any time before the EEOC makes its decision whether or not you were discriminated against. This will close your EEOC case and you will be free to file a labor lawsuit.
Important: After you receive a “right to sue” letter, the clock starts ticking on your time limit to file a lawsuit, so see a labor law attorney right away if you don’t already have one. If you have questions about the equal employment opportunity commission, talk with a labor lawyer in your area.