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.

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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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