The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Process
Many employees must go through the EEOC before filing a lawsuit for workplace discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Failure to meet critical deadlines or properly follow the process can have a devastating impact on the employee’s work-related lawsuit. A discrimination or retaliation lawsuit is subject to dismissal by a court if the EEOC is not properly notified of the employee’s grievances.
The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces a number of laws that regulate workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. There are three major laws that the EEOC handles. The first is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law allows employees to sue employers who discriminate against them on the basis of characteristics like race, sex, national origin, and religion. The EEOC also enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects employees who are 40 or older from age discrimination. Finally, the EEOC enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act, which governs how employers must treat employees with certain disabilities. If an employee wishes to sue under any of these laws, he or she should go through the EEOC before suing the employer.
Important Time Limits
180 Days: In Alabama, an employee has one-hundred-eighty (180) days from the date of the last discriminatory act to properly notify the EEOC of a grievance. For example, if an employee believes she was fired because of her race, she has 180 days from the date of firing to properly notify the EEOC. Failure to do so may be fatal to any lawsuit she wishes to bring.
90 Days: After the EEOC has completed its investigation, it will issue a letter to the employee. He or she then has ninety (90) days from receipt of that letter to file a lawsuit. This is a strict deadline. Failure to file the lawsuit on time may result in a dismissal of the lawsuit.
Before Filing A Charge Of Discrimination
Ask yourself the following before filing the EEOC grievance, also known as a “charge of discrimination”:
- Why do I think my employer has discriminated against me? Everyone falls into what the law calls a “protected class.” For example, everyone has a race and gender. But the discrimination must actually be based on one of these protected classes. It is not against the law for the employer to discriminate against you on the basis that he or she doesn’t like the way you perform the job. Further, it’s not unlawful for the employer to treat his family members who work for the company better than you. But, it is against the law for the employer to discriminate against you on the basis of your race, sex, national origin, disability, religion, age and a number of other things.
- Has the discrimination actually affected the terms and conditions of my employment? In some cases, it does not become unlawful for an employer to discriminate unless it has subjected the employee to an “adverse employment action.” Examples of such an action may include termination, failure to hire or promote, demotion, failure to train, etc.
- How are employees different from me treated? Generally speaking, you’ll need to show that employees outside of your protected class (e.g., race, age, national origin, religion) are treated better than you under similar circumstances. For example, maybe the employer has demoted someone solely because she is female, which is unlawful. However, the employer has attempted to justify the demotion on the grounds that the employee showed up late to work. If there are males who have been late for work but not demoted, that’s a pretty good way to show unfair workplace discrimination.
After you’ve done this evaluation, you will have much of what you need to describe workplace discrimination to the EEOC. It’s best to work with a lawyer who knows the process and what’s needed. However, you can do it yourself. There’s an EEOC office in Birmingham, Alabama, and their investigators can be quite helpful. Here is their contact information:
Location: Ridge Park Place
1130 22nd Street South
Birmingham, AL 35205
After Filing Your Charge Of Discrimination
Once you’ve properly filed a charge with the EEOC, an investigator with contact you, now known as the “Charging Party.” He or she will begin to gather information. The investigator will also contact the employer, which is called the “Respondent.” The EEOC will typically make an early assessment of the strength of your claims. Their assessment may guide how thoroughly the agency investigates the grievance and the length of time that your claims are with the agency. It’s your duty to cooperate with the EEOC, and you should provide its investigators with anything that will support your claims. The more documentation and witnesses, the better.
The EEOC will typically invite you and your employer to mediate the dispute. That is, the EEOC will ask you to sit down with the employer and reach a settlement. You are not required to do this. Even if you do mediate, you are not required to accept a settlement. It’s best to have legal representation if you choose to mediate the case.
After a while, the EEOC will ask the employer to submit something called a “position statement.” This is a written response by the employer addressing your allegations of workplace discrimination. You have the option of responding if you choose. However, be careful with what you say in a reply, as it may be used against you later.
Although employers do sometimes admit fault during the EEOC process, it’s not as common as one might think. Still, the process does have its advantages. EEOC investigators can sometimes turn up information that will prove useful if the employee decides to file a lawsuit for discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. For the most part, however, the EEOC is simply a box that the employee must check before having his or her day in court. There is very little an employee can do while the grievance is with the EEOC, other than cooperate.
The Completion Of The EEOC Process
After approximately six months, the EEOC will conclude its investigation and issue a determination. The agency will either find a reason to believe that there’s been unlawful conduct, or it won’t. If the EEOC believes the employer has behaved unlawfully, it will require a “conciliation” and attempt to resolve the conflict. If the conciliation is unsuccessful, you’ll then be permitted to sue. If the EEOC finds no cause, it will promptly issue a “right to sue” letter without conciliation. At that time, you may file a lawsuit. As noted, it’s important to act quickly.
In very rare cases, the EEOC may take your case on itself and file the suit on your behalf.
If you have any questions or desire help with the EEOC process, do not hesitate to contact our attorneys at Capstone Law, LLC. Initial consultations are free.