What is the EEOC, and what can it do?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency charged with investigating discrimination claims in violation of Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and GINA.  The EEOC serves somewhat of a “gatekeeping” function for the court system.  Before an employee can file a lawsuit in federal court alleging employment discrimination violating one of the above-referenced statutes, he/she must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. 

Once the EEOC receives a charge of discrimination, it allows the employer to respond and otherwise investigate the allegations.  The EEOC may send the employer a request for documents and also may request interviews of employees and managers.  After the investigation, the EEOC decides whether there is evidence of illegal discrimination.  No matter the EEOC’s decision, it typically issues the complaining employee a “right to sue” letter, giving that employee 90 days to file suit.  While the employee ultimately retains the right to sue the employer no matter what the EEOC decides, practically speaking, it behooves employers to put forth their best defense to receive a “no cause” determination at the EEOC stage; as such a result, often dissuades employees (and their attorneys) from proceeding to suit.

What are the timing requirements for filing an EEOC charge and lawsuit?

A complainant must file an EEOC charge related to the ADA, ADEA, or Title VII within 180 days of the actions taken by the employer that comprise the basis of claims. If the complaints are ongoing, then the last of the actions taken by the employer, which Plaintiff believes is illegal, must have occurred within 180 days of the complainant’s filing of an EEOC Charge.

If the EEOC, after investigating, issues a Right to Sue letter, an applicant may file a lawsuit within ninety days of receiving a Right to Sue letter. The federal court will dismiss the claim if the complainant fails to do so, but a lawsuit is subsequently filed. Once an employer receives notice of the Right to Sue letter and 90 days pass, the employer can be assured that the federal court will dismiss a subsequently filed lawsuit.  It is important to note that the former employee may only file a lawsuit related to the issues raised in the EEOC charge.   An attempt to sue the employer for violations of federal law not included in the EEOC charge should be challenged in federal court for failure to exhaust administrative remedies required by Title VII and the other federal statutes mentioned above.

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The information herein is not legal advice. The information is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter discussed.  The above is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.