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EEOC's Charge Processing Procedures

Pregnant woman at work wondering about discrimination

Let's start simply. The EEOC is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is a government agency that enforces anti-discrimination (sometimes called Title VII) laws related to the workplace.

Before suing an employer, federal law requires an employee to go through the EEOC's administrative complaint process. There are some exceptions to this rule, but most cases require this step before filing a lawsuit.

What Is the EEOC's purpose?

The EEOC and federal law protect employees and job applicants from discrimination.

You are protected based on the following characteristics:

  • Race
  • Gender and gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy

The EEOC works to protect workers in various types of employment settings from actions that disadvantage them or create a hostile environment. Age discrimination and sexual harassment are common sources of EEOC complaints.

Large businesses and employers should have knowledge of these employment discrimination laws. Their employees should be trained in workplace discrimination and aware of how to report potential issues.

Clear processes should be in place within businesses. Workers need to be able to follow the steps should they have a complaint, which is called a charge, for the EEOC.

What Happens After Filing A Charge With the EEOC?

Once someone files a charge with the EEOC, the employer learns that it has been filed.

From this point there are a number of ways officials handle discrimination claim cases:

  • The EEOC can assign a case for priority investigation if the initial facts appear to prove a legal violation. When the evidence is less strong, the charge might be assigned for follow-up investigation.
  • The EEOC can seek to settle a charge at any stage of the investigation. The person who files the claim and the employer would have to agree to settle. If the efforts fail, the investigation continues.
  • The complaint sometimes goes to the EEOC's mediation program if both the charging party and the employer agree to do so. Mediation saves all parties from a longer investigation process. What happens in mediation, including the process itself, remains confidential.

Basics of Investigating EEOC Claims

While investigating a workplace complaint, the EEOC requests lots of information. They might interview people, review documents, and visit the facility where the alleged discrimination happened.

When they finish investigating, the EEOC discusses the evidence with the charging party or employer, as appropriate.

What Happens After the EEOC Investigation?

The EEOC must inform the employer and the party who made a complaint if it finds insufficient evidence to move forward with a specific case. The person who made the report then has 90 days to file a lawsuit on their own behalf if they want.

If the evidence shows that discrimination has occurred, the EEOC informs the employer and the charging party in a letter of determination. The EEOC will then attempt conciliation with the employer to develop a remedy for the discrimination.

Conciliation in the EEOC Complaint Process

Conciliation is a voluntary resolution process. It is a means to ideally avoid litigation in employment law disputes.

If parties in an employment dispute agree to conciliation, mediation, or settlement arrangements, the case does not go to court. The exception to that rule is if either party does not honor the agreement.

If the EEOC is unable to successfully resolve the charge through conciliation, the agency will decide whether to bring suit in federal court. If the EEOC decides not to sue, it will issue a notice closing the case. The charging party then has 90 days in which to file a lawsuit on his or her own behalf.

Federal and Government Cases

In Title VII and ADA cases against state or local governments, the Department of Justice takes these actions.

Federal employees or applicants for employment should see Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.

Resolving Complaints Through Mediation or Dismissal

If mediation is unsuccessful, the officials will continue to an investigation process.

The EEOC can dismiss a workplace complaint if the agency believes there has been no legal violation. If an initial in-depth interview does not produce evidence to support a charge, the EEOC might dismiss it early on.

When a charge is dismissed, a notice is issued in accordance with the law which gives the charging party 90 days in which to file a lawsuit on his or her own behalf.

When Can an Individual File an Employment Discrimination Lawsuit in Court?

There is a difference between a discrimination complaint and a lawsuit. Once the EEOC hands the letter off to the complaining party, that person can choose to file a lawsuit.

While the investigation is in the hands of the EEOC, the matter is a complaint. When the EEOC hands off the matter and someone exercises their right to sue, that is when the matter becomes a lawsuit.

A charging party may file a lawsuit within 90 days after receiving a notice of a "right to sue" from the EEOC. This generally means the agency is not taking direct control over the complaint since it found little evidence of wrongdoing.

Different Employment Laws Have Different Timelines

Under Title VII and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a charging party also can request a notice of "right to sue" from EEOC 180 days after the charge was first filed with the agency. They then can bring suit within 90 days after receiving this notice.

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), a party can file a lawsuit at any time 60 days after filing a charge with the EEOC. The filing cannot happen later than 90 days after EEOC issues its letter of determination on the specific charge.

Under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), a lawsuit must be filed within two years (three years for willful violations) of the wrongful act in question. Most cases like this involve payment of a discriminatory lower wage. Unlike other claims, you do not need to file a charge with or receive a right to sue letter from the EEOC before filing a lawsuit under the EPA.

You Have the Right to Sue Letter. Now What?

Only part of the employment law process is done once you receive the right to sue letter from the EEOC. The details above give you the timelines necessary to meet in order to protect your right to bring your workplace discrimination case to federal court.

A right to sue letter means you should contact an employment lawyer immediately to discuss the next steps in your case. If you miss the filing deadline for your case, you might miss any chance to file your lawsuit in the future.

What Remedies Are Available In Discrimination Lawsuits?

The relief available for employment discrimination, whether caused by intentional acts or by practices that have a discriminatory effect can include the following:

  • Back pay
  • Hiring
  • Promotion
  • Reinstatement
  • Front pay
  • Reasonable accommodation
  • Other actions that will make an individual "whole" (in the condition they would have been in if not for the discrimination)

Remedies also may include payment of:

  • Attorneys' fees
  • Expert witness fees
  • Court costs

Compensatory and punitive damages might also be available where intentional discrimination is found. Damages might include actual monetary losses, future financial losses, and mental anguish.

Punitive damages may be available if an employer acted with malice or reckless indifference. Punitive damages are not available against the federal, state, or local governments.

An employer could avoid having to pay punitive damages in certain situations. A reasonable accommodations case is an example. If an employer proves they made a good faith effort to accommodate a disability in the workplace, they might be saved from paying extra in damages.

Following a complaint or discrimination lawsuit, an employer could be required to post notices to all employees related to the issue. The content would address the violations of a specific charge and advise them of their rights under EEOC laws. Information should include telling workers they are protected from retaliation related to making workplace complaints.

Regulators also can demand corrective or preventive actions to mitigate the chance of similar discrimination in the workplace happening. Sometimes, employment discrimination isn't just one action. It can be a system or set of various actions that all add up to a hostile working environment.

Can You Sue the EEOC?

After turning to the EEOC and filing a charge, someone might expect a specific kind of help. Maybe they don't agree with how the agency sees things in their situation.

When faced with the stress of a workplace matter and then this disappointment, some might want to fight back. Technically, however, they cannot sue the EEOC based on its handling of a discrimination complaint. The commission is a government entity and protected from lawsuits 404 by a doctrine called sovereign immunity.

Get Help With Your Employment Discrimination Matter

Do you need help because of discrimination in the workplace? In order to begin an EEOC claim, you must follow a process. Unfortunately, governmental processes are often convoluted and confusing.

If you or someone you know is experiencing employment discrimination and want to know what to do next, you should consult with an employment law attorney in your area.

They can help explain how the EEOC sees and handles things. They can clear up your confusion and ease some anxiety by laying out what to expect.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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