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EEOC's Charge Processing Procedures

Pregnant woman at work wondering about discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a government agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws related to the workplace. It handles tens of thousands of charges of discrimination each year.

Before suing an employer, federal law requires an employee to go through the EEOC's administrative complaint process. Except for the Equal Pay Act, the laws enforced by the EEOC require a charge of employment discrimination. This rule has some exceptions, but most cases require this step before filing a lawsuit.

What Is the EEOC's Purpose?

The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces many federal laws protecting employees and job applicants from discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC oversees employment practices that include:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promotions
  • Harassment
  • Training
  • Wages
  • Benefits

The EEOC enforces laws that make discrimination illegal in the workplace regarding prohibited employment policies and practices. Employees and applicants are protected based on the following characteristics:

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

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

Laws Enforced by the EEOC

The EEOC enforces employment laws, including the following:

Employers must have knowledge of these employment discrimination laws. Their employees should be trained in workplace discrimination and know 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. The EEOC provides detailed information on filing a charge of employment discrimination.

Other federal, state, or local laws may apply. Thus, contacting a local employment lawyer is essential. They can discuss all laws applicable to your situation.

What Happens After Filing a Charge With the EEOC?

The EEOC process for filing a charge for employment discrimination begins with the charge of discrimination. A charge of discrimination is a signed statement asserting that an organization engaged in employment discrimination.

Most laws enforced by the EEOC require you to file a charge before filing a lawsuit for unlawful discrimination. When an employee or applicant files a complaint with the EEOC, the employer learns about the filing. When a charge is filed against an organization, the EEOC will notify the organization within ten days.

There are strict time limits for filing a charge, so it's critical to adhere to these deadlines to avoid losing the ability to file a charge for discrimination.

How the EEOC Handles Discrimination Claim Cases

There are several ways officials handle discrimination claim cases. The resolution paths include the following:

  • The EEOC can assign a case for priority investigation if the initial facts appear to prove a legal violation. When the evidence does not clearly show a violation, the charge might be assigned for follow-up investigation.
  • The EEOC can seek to settle a charge at any stage in the investigation. The person who files the claim and the employer must agree to settle. If settlement efforts fail, the investigation continues.
  • Mediation may be an option for resolution in some cases. EEOC mediation is an option for resolution if both the charging party and the respondent agree to the mediation. The voluntary mediation program can save parties from a longer investigation process. What happens in mediation, including the process itself, remains confidential. If the parties decline mediation, the charge will proceed through investigation like any other charge.

Basics of Investigating EEOC Claims

While investigating a workplace complaint, the EEOC will likely request a large volume of information.

EEOC Information Requests

During an EEOC investigation, the agency might request:

  • Interviews
  • Documents
  • Position Statements
  • A site visit

Position Statements

In most instances, the EEOC requests that the Respondent submit a statement of its position, known as a position statement or statement of position. A position statement assists the EEOC as it conducts its investigation. This statement of position and supporting documentation aids the EEOC in its investigation. This statement gives both parties an opportunity to explain and support their respective positions.

What Happens After the EEOC Investigation?

When the EEOC finishes investigating, it discusses the evidence with the charging party or employer as appropriate. The EEOC must inform the employer and the party who made a complaint if it finds insufficient evidence to proceed. The charging party then has 90 days to file a lawsuit on their behalf.

If the evidence shows that discrimination 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 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 cannot resolve the charge through conciliation successfully, 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 EEOC will provide the charging party with a Notice of Right to Sue at the close of the investigation. The charging party then has 90 days to file a lawsuit on their behalf.

Resolving Complaints Through Mediation or Dismissal

If mediation is unsuccessful, the officials will continue the investigation process. The EEOC can dismiss a workplace complaint if the agency believes no legal violation exists. If an initial in-depth interview does not produce evidence to support a charge, the EEOC might dismiss the charge early in the process.

When a charge is dismissed, the EEOC issues a notice under the law. The charging party has 90 days to file a lawsuit on their 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, it 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 because it found little evidence of wrongdoing.

Different Employment Laws Have Different Timelines

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

Under the ADEA, a party can file a lawsuit at least 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, noting the conclusion of the EEOC's investigation.

Under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), a lawsuit for the wrongful act in question must be filed within two years (three years for willful violations). 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 complete once you receive the right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. Following the process above protects 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, which means to place the person in the condition they would have been in if not for the discrimination

Remedies may also 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:

  • Monetary losses
  • Future financial losses
  • 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 paying 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 additional 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 advising workers that 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. Sometimes, employment discrimination isn't just one action. It can be a system or set of various actions that contribute to a hostile working environment.

Federal Government Cases

The EEO complaint process is also available for federal sector employees and job applicants with discrimination claims against the federal government. Federal employees or applicants for federal employment should see Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint Processing.

Federal laws, regulations, and executive orders require federal agencies to post contact information for the agency's EEO office. This allows a charging party to contact an EEO Counselor responsible for the agency's complaint program.

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 the EEOC's outcome or determination.

When faced with the stress of a workplace matter, followed by this disappointment, some might want to fight back. However, they cannot sue the EEOC based on its handling of a discrimination complaint. The EEOC is a government entity. As such, it is protected from most lawsuits under the sovereign immunity doctrine.

Get Help With Your Employment Discrimination Matter

Do you need help because of discrimination in the workplace? If you or someone you know is experiencing employment discrimination and want to know what to do next, consult an employment law attorney. They can help explain how the EEOC sees and handles EEOC charges. They can clear up your confusion and ease anxiety by laying out what to expect.

To begin an EEOC claim, you must follow the correct process. Unfortunately, governmental processes can be confusing. As such, you may benefit from obtaining legal advice from an employment law attorney in your area. They can explain your legal options and provide any additional information.

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