How to File an EEOC Employment Discrimination Charge

What the EEOC Does with Your Discrimination Charge

Step 1: Inform Your Employer

Within 10 days of filing your charge, the EEOC will send a notice and a copy of your discrimination charge to your employer, which means your name and information about your allegations will be disclosed to them. The EEOC is required by law to give the charge you filed to the employer so that the employer has the opportunity to respond to your claims. The EEOC will not disclose your charge to the public while an investigation is underway.

If you wish to file an anonymous claim because you're concerned that your employer might retaliate against you, your only option is to have an individual or organization you trust file a claim on your behalf. The EEOC says on its website that it doesn't usually tell the employer who the charge was filed on behalf of, though it does tell the employer the name of the individual or organization who filed it.

Be aware that even if you have someone file a discrimination charge on your behalf, the EEOC notes that keeping your identity a secret during the investigation may be difficult, even if your name is never released, because of the circumstances surrounding your charge.

This lack of anonymity prevents a number of people from filing discrimination charges, says Inzeo. But that fear of retaliation shouldn't prevent you from filing a discrimination charge because it's illegal for an employer to retaliate against a job seeker or current or former employee who files a discrimination charge. An employer cannot, for example, fire, demote or harass you for filing a discrimination charge.

"In talking to people [who come to our field office with claims and who are concerned about their employer knowing they filed the claim], we emphasize that it's against the law for employers to retaliate against someone for filing a charge," says Inzeo. "When we serve an employer with a copy of the charge that was filed, we remind them that retaliation violates the laws that we enforce."

While the law doesn't always stop employers from acting out, victims of retaliation have recourse. If you believe your employer has retaliated against you, contact your EEOC investigator immediately. The investigator will talk with you about your situation, and if appropriate, add a retaliation claim to your discrimination charge. The EEOC will then notify the employer that a retaliation claim has been added to your charge, and the agency will investigate your retaliation claim as well.

Step 2: Mediation

The EEOC may ask you and your employer if you're interested in trying to resolve the charge through a free, confidential mediation process. Mediation is not mandatory. If either party declines to pursue mediation, your charge will be forwarded immediately to an EEOC investigator.

But if you and your employer agree to mediation, a trained mediator (usually an EEOC employee, sometimes a contractor or volunteer) will try to help you and your employer reach a voluntary settlement. The mediator does not issue a decision as to which party is right or wrong. Rather, he or she tries to help both parties resolve their disagreement. Inzeo says settlements can be monetary, or they can address the victim's standing in the company--in other words, they can get the job or promotion they were initially denied because of discrimination.

The time mediation takes depends on how complicated your case is, though a single mediation session usually lasts between a half and a full work day. Inzeo says most mediation efforts are settled in one session. You may bring a lawyer with you to the mediation session, but the mediator will proscribe the attorney's role.

If mediation doesn't solve your problem, the EEOC will investigate your discrimination charge. For more information on the mediation process, see the EEOC's Mediation Program.

Step 3: Investigation

The EEOC's process for investigating claims varies according to the facts of the case and the kind of information the agency needs to gather. EEOC investigators may need to visit the employer to conduct interviews and gather documentation, or they may interview witnesses over the phone and request documents by mail. If an employer refuses to cooperate with an EEOC investigation, the agency can issue a subpoena to obtain documents, testimony or to enter offices.

Be aware that investigations can take several months. In 2004, for example, it took the EEOC nearly six months on average to investigate charges. The exact duration of an investigation depends largely upon the amount of information the EEOC needs to gather and analyze. Charges are often settled faster (usually in less than three months) through mediation, according to the EEOC.

If a discrimination charge appears to have little chance of success, the agency may dismiss the charge without conducting an investigation or offering mediation. Inzeo says the EEOC determines a charge's chance of success based on "certain models of proof that are required for different types of claims," and based on the many existing legal precedents that define employment discrimination. He adds that approximately 12 to 14 percent of charges are dismissed without being investigated or mediated. The EEOC may also dismiss your charge if it does not have jurisdiction over your claim or if your charge is no longer timely. The EEOC will notify you in the event it dismisses your charge.

If the EEOC finds that your employer did in fact violate federal anti-discrimination laws, the agency will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If the EEOC can't reach a settlement, your case will be transferred to the EEOC's legal staff, who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. Inzeo says the EEOC looks at a variety of factors when determining whether or not to take on a suit, including the number of individuals who've been impacted by the discrimination, the location of the case, the discrimination laws it addresses, and whether the case allows the EEOC to help shape future anti-discrimination laws.

If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit, it will give you a "Notice of Right to Sue," which grants you permission to file a lawsuit against the employer. If the EEOC doesn't find a violation of the law after investigating your charge, you will still get a Right to Sue notice.

"The EEOC's mission is to eradicate discrimination. To do that, people have to come forward and tell us about discrimination," says Inzeo. "If people come forward and we get the opportunity to investigate and then resolve matters between the parties--or if necessary--litigate, then we can have a positive impact not only on the individual and the workplace where the individual works but in all of America's workplaces because people will understand their rights and employers will understand their obligations not to discriminate."

Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at mlevinson@cio.com

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