By John Berry
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles most discrimination complaints in the United States. The EEOC is the enforcement body for federal employment laws involving complaints of illegal discrimination. There are principally two types of EEO complaint processes, one for private sector employees and some public sector employees and one for federal employees. This article will briefly discuss discrimination complaints by private sector employees and some limited public sector (non-federal) employees.
Types of EEO Complaints
The EEOC accepts complaints for the following types of illegal discrimination:
Race / Color Discrimination
Retaliation for EEO activity
National Origin Discrimination
Equal Pay cases
How to File a Discrimination Complaint
If an employee believes that they have been discriminated on the basis of one of the categories above, they can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. A charge of discrimination is simply a signed statement alleging that an employer has engaged in employment discrimination towards an employee.
Keep in mind that there are time limitations in being able to file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. These types limits are generally 180 to 300 days, but vary on location and other factors. Please note that federal employees have other complaint procedures and timelines (which are much shorter - 45 days) so if an individual is a federal employee please review these EEOC procedures.
A copy of the complaint of discrimination will then be sent to the employer, typically within 10 days.
Following the Filing of the Discrimination Complaint
After the discrimination complaint has been filed and an employer has been put on notice of the claim, the EEOC may recommend mediation, which is a form of alternative dispute resolution. The goal of mediation is to resolve the claims through settlement of the discrimination charge. In this case, a mediator will be appointed and hear both sides and attempt to suggest solutions to the parties. If successful, a settlement can resolve and settle a charge of discrimination.
If mediation is not employed or does not result in a resolution, the employer will be asked to provide a response statement, called a Respondent's Position Statement. Usually, a charging party (the employee) can then request a copy of the Respondent's Position Statement and provide their own response to the EEOC. The EEOC will then evaluate the discrimination claims and may ask additional questions of the employer.
The EEOC Investigation
The EEOC will evaluate the claims of discrimination based on the evidence provided, so an employee is urged to produce as much helpful information to an EEOC investigator as possible. The EEOC may send an investigator to the employer's worksite to conduct interviews or gather documents. EEOC investigators may question witnesses and ask them for documents as well. The EEOC has administrative subpoena authority to obtain documents from an employer that does not provide them to them. Following the investigation, the EEOC will provide notice to the employee and employer of their findings.
Right to Sue Letter
If the EEOC is not able to establish a violation of law with the charge, they will issue a right to sue letter which will begin the deadline for filing a lawsuit by the employee Additionally, a party can request a right to sue letter earlier in the process if they wish to do so by filing the request after receiving the Respondent's Position Statement. If the EEOC finds a potential violation of law, they may seek to resolve the complaint with the employer or refer the matter for action against the employer by their attorneys, or the Department of Justice.
It is important to have legal counsel when considering one's options in proceeding before the EEOC on a charge of discrimination.
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