EEOC Complaints: Everything You Need to Know
A company with more than 14 employees are subject to the EEOC stepping in. 8 min read
What Are EEOC Complaints?
EEOC complaints are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the body responsible for investigating discrimination complaints based on religion, race, national origin, color, age, sex, and disability. A company with more than 14 employees is subject to the EEOC stepping in. Every employee has the right to file an EEOC complaint, not only those who feel like they have been discriminated against.
The employer supplies documents and other information relevant to the case when a worker files a complaint. These items include copies of HR policies and any personnel files after the EEOC has followed up with a formal request. Although disruptive to the company and overall operations, the EEOC staff may also visit the office.
During the work day, the staff may ask the employer for employee interviews. The EEOC can still contact employees outside of work without the employer's permission. Even if an EEOC complaint has numerous advantages, the employer is going to have to invest time, effort, and sometimes money to deal with it. The EEOC notifies the employer and then asks for a "statement of position," granting an opportunity to hear the story from this perspective.
Typical EEOC Complaint Investigation Proceedings
The activities carried out are just for finding facts; information found by the EEOC is used to figure out if the complaint requires further action. From there, the process will turn into a formal investigation, which takes up more money and time. A typical EEOC investigation period lasts six months, but each case varies.
During this time, the employer may be prohibited from destroying documents of any kind without prior permission. Employers should hire a lawyer for counsel.
Robin Shea, who is a partner in a law firm, says employers can influence an investigation, especially when not working with a lawyer. By unintentionally admitting a violation occurred or providing too many details, employers moving forward without a lawyer can turn even the most trivial complaint into a full-blown investigation.
How Does an EEOC Complaint Hurt an Employer?
Once the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives a complaint that an employer illegally discriminated against its workers, that employer may be in for a long period of legal issues.
During the ensuing months, time-consuming official requests are made to acquire more information in addition to or in the form of:
- Intrusive investigations
- Large legal bills
- Negative publicity
- Expensive damages (if the complaint is upheld)
EEOC Complaints and Costs of Litigation
Employers can avoid an EEOC investigation if they agree to attempt to mediate or settle the complaint. This will likely result in the employer having to change its procedures and policies. They may also be responsible for compensating anyone who complained. However, employers don't have to admit any liability or guilt, and agreements remain private.
The EEOC may sue the employer if said employer will not mediate, or if the EEOC determines the case goes beyond what mediation could offer and is far more serious. The employees who filed the complaint can still sue even if the EEOC decides not to. Regardless of who sues, litigation proceedings are a considerable cost for the employer and can produce some bad publicity, as well.
Indemnifications and Penalties
This depends on the nature of the complaint, but may include paying back wages, reinstating their job, or giving them a promotion. In addition, employers will be required to pay the complainants' court and legal fees. However, things definitely get more expensive if there's a trial.
Damages will be awarded to any employees who filed complaints by the court. Damages are as follows:
- 15 to 100 employees: $50,000 per person
- 101 to 200 employees: $100,000 per person
- 201 to 300 employees: $200,000 per person
- More than 300 workers: $300,000 per person
For the Employee: How to File an EEOC Charge of Discrimination
When facing workplace harassment or discrimination, your first step should be complaining internally using the procedures detailed in your employee handbook or other policies outlined in the onboarding process. When your complaints aren't met or you feel unsatisfied, you may file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC or a similar agency in your state to handle these proceedings.
The EEOC has a very well-defined process for handling complaints compared to most government agencies. It usually operates through a network of offices and places strict deadlines for complaint filing, usually ranging from around 90 days and up to almost a year. Employees are advised to pay close attention to the deadline when deciding to file against something they believe is illegal or discriminatory in the workplace.
If you think your rights have been violated, think about filing discrimination claims with the EEOC. They will reach out to both you and your employer within 10 days. Shortly after, they will begin the investigation of your claim. If they find that your employer violated anti-discrimination laws, the options are a settlement with the employer or taking the case to court.
You may also file a complaint as a U.S. citizen employed by a U.S.-based company that has operations abroad. Simply file your charge(s) with the EEOC district office in the city or state closest to your employer's U.S.-based headquarters.
What to Do Before Filing Charges
Things you will be asked when filing:
- Personal information, including name, telephone number, and address
- The above information of your employer, plus the number of employees in regard to your employer/employment agency or any other alleged entity part of the discrimination
- A short description of the alleged violation
- Date(s) of when the discrimination/alleged violation(s) took place
If you are a federal employee, have a look at the agency's Overview of Federal Sector EEO Complaint Process. Note that the EEOC does not process discrimination charges online. The EEOC's online assessment tool is designed to assist in determining whether filing charges with the agency is the best course of action.
Where to File
Complaints can be filed at local equal employment opportunity agency offices. These are state and local agencies (not federal) that are official representatives of the EEOC. A state that has its own equal employment opportunity laws will be allowed 300 days after the act of discrimination occurred to file the complaint. A state that does not have its own equal employment opportunity laws only has 180 days to file.
Filing a Title VII Lawsuit
When you file your discrimination claim with the EEOC, be aware that the agency pursues only a small fraction of the charges it receives. If EEOC does not act on your complaint within 180 days, you are responsible for requesting a right-to-sue letter that authorizes you to file a lawsuit in federal court against the offending employer.
Upon receiving the right-to-sue letter, you have only a short period (90 days) to file a lawsuit, so be mindful of the deadlines for the Title VII process. The EEOC's out-of-pocket expenses are limited by law to $5,000 per lawsuit—thousands of dollars less than it typically costs to take an employment discrimination case to court.
Time Limits for Filing Charges
Employees are advised to contact the EEOC immediately after you believe there is any discrimination on behalf of your employer. You'll have less than a year (300 days) to file.
Tips for Dealing With the EEOC
Keep these things in mind to help get your claim through the EEOC bureaucracy in the most efficient manner:
- Be vigilant and check in with the EEOC to learn more and discuss your case.
- Be assertive and bring any additional EEOC issues to the attention of whoever is helping you with your case.
- Read—and reread—any fine print to be sure to give a detailed look before signing anything.
Keep options open when filing for an EEOC complaint. Keep in mind that you still have the ability to try to solve the issue(s) at hand on your own or go through the complaint procedure suggested by the company.
Retaliation for Discrimination Complaints
Whether the file is with a state civil rights commission or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, many worry that their employer will seek retribution after, since they're not above discriminating or allowing discrimination. The law prohibits this type of retaliation.
Grounds for discrimination complaints are strong when an employee was fired due to his or her race, or was denied an accommodation for his or her disability. Whether it's believed you were denied a promotion due to your age, or were harassed because of your religion, you may win or lose your claim.
The EEOC, or other civil rights enforcement agencies, make protecting the process's integrity a high priority. Any company can by prosecuted for seeking retribution.
Any person that filed a discrimination complaint should be careful not to alter their behavior. A common fear is that their employer might now be "afraid of them" and can take this as an opportunity to let them go or fire them, for example. In the aftermath of a complaint, both sides will need to monitor behavior more closely and any and all actions will be more carefully documented during this time.
What to Do If Retaliated Against
Should you decide to exercise your rights under the anti-discrimination laws and your employer responds negatively toward you for doing so, you can take action in return. If the complaint was made internally within the company, first talk to the person who took your original complaint or speak directly with the company's HR department.
When you file your charge of retaliation, you'll need to review the incident, including when and who the person responsible was. Give as much detail as possible.
What Is Retaliation?
This simply means an employee has been discriminated against because they have filed a complaint.
Employees are protected from retaliation or from participating in an investigation when it comes to harassment or discrimination. For example, an employer may not fire an employee simply because the employee reaches out to an EEOC investigator or supports a colleague's complaint against discrimination at the company.
Once the charge is filed, the EEOC can respond in a number of ways. It will most certainly ask your employer to respond to your allegations and might proceed to investigate your claims or send you and your employer to mediation. Mediation is an amicable step to try to resolve the dispute informally, as is trying to broker a settlement directly with your employer.
If the EEOC doesn't resolve the problem with one of the above methods, it can choose to file a lawsuit against the employer for you.
Common Reasons for Not Filing Complaints
Here are a few frequently heard explanations:
- “It takes too much time.” If a case is hard-fought and goes to federal trial, it can take years (even on appeal), though few cases run that course.
- "I don't want to be seen as a whiner." An employee who doesn't believe in the anti-discrimination laws will often have this perspective.
- "Even after what I've been through, I don't want to hurt my boss." Often, employees tend to be scared to hurt their boss and never wants to file a complaint against their supervisors.
- "I don't want to be disloyal to my company." Correcting unfairness ultimately will make an employer more effective by ending a bad corporate practice.
- "I don't have, or can't afford, a lawyer." Some employees simply might not have the funds to work with a lawyer.
People have been advised to come up and report illegal discrimination. However, some groups appear even more cautious than others, like immigrant groups or Asian Pacific Americans, who file discrimination complaints at a lower rate than other groups.
Schedule a Consultation With a Civil Rights Attorney
It's difficult to take action for your civil liberties and civil rights violations on your own. When you begin to feel that either of these have been violated, then you should talk to an attorney to get a professional opinion. An experienced civil rights attorney knows the differences between these basic rights and can help you with a possible claim.
If you need help with EEOC complaints or the filing process, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.