Filing an EEOC Charge of Discrimination

Filing a EEOC claim the first steps you should take when you feel you are dealing with workplace harassment or discrimination. In the event that the employer fails to take measures to sanction the employee or you can file a charge of discrimination or harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar state agency.

The EEOC does not perform random audits of the workplace in search of discrimination. Instead, it relies on workers to file complaints on their own. Due to the fact the EEOC requires employees to bring charges forward, federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from taking retaliatory measures against an employee for doing so.

After the EEOC receives your complaint, it will get in touch with you and your employer within 10 days after your filing and follows up with an investigation. An investigation can take a couple months to finish depending on the details and complexity of the charge.

Before Filing Charges

The agency will not process a discrimination charge online. Instead, you have to file by mail or in person. However, the EEOC has an online assessment tool that helps you figure out if filing charges is the top course of action. If so, you can complete an online intake questionnaire and mail it or deliver it in person to your local EEOC office.

Prepare to supply your personal and contact information as well as that of your employer when you fill out the form. You will also need to provide a brief account of the alleged discriminatory act, the date or dates, and if you are a federal employee or applicant.

Where to File

Complaints can be filed at a local EEOC office. These offices, even though they are not federal, have been designated as representatives of the EEOC along with state and regional offices of the EEOC.

When to File

If you live in a state that has its own equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, you have 300 days to file after the unwanted act has occurred. In the event the state does not have EEO laws, you have 180 days to file. Even if your state has EEO laws, it's best to assume that you only have 180 days to file and that you should file as soon as possible.

It's best to file once there is a suspicion of discriminatory behavior in the workplace, but it's not always possible to call out a solitary act as discrimination. If you discern a pattern of discrimination or harassment that goes back for more than 180 days, it's safest to assume that the EEOC time limit began the moment you recognized you were being discriminated against.

Organizing Your Evidence

It's important to organize your evidence before reporting the incidents to the EEOC. You can do this by keeping a log of details that include:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location
  • Who was involved
  • Nature of the actions

Keep a file of any documentation provided by your employer such as a written performance review that doesn't match what you experienced or unwarranted disciplinary notices.

Resist the temptation to put in a personal bias or emotion when keeping a log. Keeping your emotions out of the complaint helps the EEOC investigator take you more seriously and increases the chances of your complaint getting full attention and consideration.

How the EEOC Handles Complaints

An EEOC staff lawyer or investigator reviews your complaint and evaluates whether your or not the actions of your employer appear to violate Title VII. The EEOC has 180 days to act on your complaint which means it may be some time before you hear back. The investigator will inform you at that point if the incident warrants a complaint.

In the event the investigator feels that you should pursue your case with the help of the EEOC, they will fill out an EEOC Charge of Discrimination form that describes the incident, then send it to you for review and signature.

After receiving your complaint and acting upon it, the investigator is supposed to interview the employer named in the complaint and try to mediate a settlement between you and the employer. If the employer refuses to settle, or if the activity is blatant, the investigator can step the case up to a formal investigation. An investigation consists of subpoenaing company records and prohibits the company from destroying documents, and compel employees to make statements about the activity.

What is Retaliation?

An employer cannot retaliate against an employee for complaining about discrimination or harassment regardless if it's through internal processes or filing/complying with the EEOC.

Retaliation can come in the form of:

  • Firing
  • Demotion
  • Discipline
  • Reduction in pay
  • Changes in job or shift assignment

An employer engaging in any of these retaliatory actions is considered to be deterring a reasonable employee from making a complaint.

What to Do if You Face Retaliation

In the event your employer has taken action against you because you filed a complaint under anti-discrimination laws, you can take action. If you've made an internal company complaint, talk to the person who took your complaint or go to the HR department and let them know you're being punished for complaining. If you've filed with a government agency, let the investigator know about the retaliation and ask them to file a separate charge of retaliation against the employer.

Keep a log of the retaliation just the same as keeping track of the original unwanted behavior. It's easier to make a case that there was retaliatory action against you. The EEOC is unlikely to file a lawsuit on your behalf as it's limited to a budget of $5000 per lawsuit unless the case will generate publicity or controversy.

Filing a Title VII Lawsuit

Filing a complaint with the EEOC is a slow process. If the agency does not act on your complaint within 180 days, you can request a Notice of Right to Sue which authorizes you to file a lawsuit in federal court against your employer. Once you receive the letter, you have 90 days to file.

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