How to File an EEOC Employment Discrimination Charge

If you think you're being illegally discriminated against, don't just sit there complaining. Filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is easier than you think--and can be remarkably effective.

Fri, April 29, 2011

CIO — Talk to many IT professionals over 40 and they'll tell you age discrimination is rampant in the field. They'll share stories of being passed up for jobs because they're too old and about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways hiring managers and HR personnel ask them about their age (e.g., Do you have any kids? When did you graduate from high school?).

In order to avoid age discrimination, older IT workers have confessed to dying their gray hair (it's not just women who do this) and leaving the dates they graduated from college off of their resumes, along with work experiences that date back to the 80s. When they speak about the effect of their age on their IT careers, an air of powerlessness overcomes these otherwise assertive IT professionals. They don't think there's any way to fight age discrimination.

In fact, IT workers who believe they're being or have been discriminated against—whether on the basis of their age, sex, race, national origin, religion or disability—can file a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

Filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC is surprisingly easy, and it doesn't require putting together a bullet-proof legal case either. To get started, all you basically need to provide to the EEOC is your name, address and phone number; the name, and phone number of the employer you believe discriminated against you; a brief description of the events that you believe were discriminatory; and an explanation of why you think you were discriminated against. The EEOC will take it from there.

Filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC can also be highly effective and net positive results. In 2010, the EEOC processed nearly 100,000 discrimination and retaliation charges, filed 271 lawsuits on behalf of victims, resolved 315 suits from previous years in federal district courts, and won $85.1 million in benefits for victims of discrimination, according to EEOC data. Ralph DeVito, an IT worker who lives in New Jersey, filed an age discrimination charge against outsourcing giant Infosys with the EEOC, and the commission found that DeVito was in fact discriminated against. DeVito subsequently filed a lawsuit against Infosys in February.

Nicholas Inzeo, director of the EEOC Office of Field Programs, says individuals who come forward with legitimate discrimination claims stand a lot to gain. "If someone files a charge under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act [ADEA], the case gets litigated and the individual wins the case, the court can put the person back in the position they would have been in had there been no discrimination. So any term or condition of employment, or any compensation or benefits the individual would have received absent of discrimination could be recovered," explains Inzeo. "Under the ADEA, there's a provision that if the employer took the actions knowing they were discriminatory, the court can double the amount given to the individual."

Inzeo adds that individuals who believe they've been discriminated against don't have to go to court to recover damages. "There have been a number of instances where, through mediation, people have recovered relatively large amounts of money," he says.

Another reason why filing discrimination charges with the EEOC is so important is because victims of alleged employment discrimination can't sue their employers without first filing a charge with the EEOC. Even if the EEOC doesn't find a violation of any federal anti-discrimination laws after investigating the victim's claim, the victim can still file a lawsuit on his or her own.

Here demystifies the process of filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC and explains what the EEOC does with claims once the agency receives them.

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