From small businesses to large corporations, employment discrimination is an unfortunate reality that affects employees in various work environments. When faced with instances of discrimination or harassment, many feel compelled to sue their employer. While this is a warranted response, there are a few requirements you must fulfill before bringing a claim of employment discrimination.
Employees who wish to file claims against their employers for discrimination must first file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This process can seem confusing at first, but a general understanding of what to expect from the EEOC filing process helps immensely.
What is the EEOC?
To file a claim of employment discrimination under federal law, you must first exhaust all administrative remedies before bringing the claim to court. Your initial steps depend on the nature of the discrimination. It is always best to talk to an employment attorney early on. If the discrimination includes harassment, in most cases, it is crucial to ensure that the harasser knows that the conduct is unwelcome. It is also important to report the harassment, as employers may be able to avoid or minimize their liability if they can show that they were unaware of the illegal conduct.
This is where the EEOC comes in. The EEOC enforces federal laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. The EEOC investigates claims of discrimination and is the first line of defense for employees who experience discrimination. The EEOC will investigate the claims you have filed and determine whether it wishes to file a lawsuit on your behalf. This is a rare occurrence. More often than not, the EEOC will eventually finish investigating and issue you a right to sue letter.
When do I file the Formal Complaint?
The EEOC filing process begins by reaching out to an EEO Counselor about filing a complaint against your employer. After a preliminary interview with this EEO Counselor, they will send you a notice of how to file your formal complaint with their office. You are required to file your complaint within 15 days from the day you received the notice from the EEO Counselor. While the EEO office typically enforces this deadline, law requires the office to give you a reasonable amount of time to file. Therefore, you can contact the EEO Director or the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations if you feel as though you will need more time.
What do I include in my Formal Complaint?
You are required to include the following in your Formal Complaint:
- Your name, address, and telephone number;
- A short description of the events that you believe were discriminatory (for example, you were terminated, demoted, or harassed);
- Why you believe your employer discriminated against you (for example, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information or retaliation);
- A short description of any injury you suffered; and
- Your signature (or your lawyer’s signature).
What happens after I file?
After filing, the EEOC will send you a letter confirming that they received your complaint. The agency reviews the complaint and initially decides whether to dismiss the claim for a procedural reason, such as a late filing. As previously mentioned, the EEOC investigates the claims you make in your Formal Complaint. The agency must complete its investigation within 180 days from the day you filed. There are two exceptions to this deadline:
- You can agree to a 90-day extension or
- if you add additional claims to your complaint, which automatically grants the agency another 180 days to investigate.
After the agency completes the investigation and discovers that some form of discrimination occurred, they will likely provide you with the right to sue letter.
I have received my right to sue letter, what now?
Once you receive your right to sue letter from the EEO office, you can now file a lawsuit with the court. The next steps are deciding where and when to file the lawsuit as well as what to include in the claim. These decisions are very important and have major impacts on the strength of your claims. It is crucial to hire an experienced employment attorney to carefully evaluate the facts of your case and identify all of the possible claims and remedies. Call our office today for a consultation so we can handle your case with care and efficiency.