FAQ Employment Law

Chronology of a Discrimination Charge Filed with the EEOC or State Fair Employment Practices Agency

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against their employees based on age, race, religion, gender, disability, or other factors under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, and other federal anti-discrimination laws. Most states have similar laws. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against you at work for asserting your rights under these laws or assisting or testifying on behalf of others in asserting their rights under these laws.

Unfortunately, discrimination still happens at the workplace. If you think you have been the victim of unlawful employment discrimination in your workplace, the first thing to do is find a good employment attorney. Your attorney will know which laws and procedures apply to your particular situation.

Many states and localities have similar anti-discrimination laws and agencies responsible for enforcing laws similar to those enforced by the EEOC. These agencies are sometimes referred to as Fair Employment Practices Agencies or FEPAs. Through the use of work sharing agreements, the EEOC and the state FEPAs avoid duplication of effort while at the same time ensuring that a charging party's rights are protected under both federal and state law.

Before filing a lawsuit, you will probably have to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or with your state fair employment practices agency. A charge may be a form or other document, containing the following information:

  • The complaining party's name, address, and telephone number, the name, address, and telephone number of the respondent employer, employment agency, or union that is alleged to have discriminated, and the number of employees (or union members), if known;
  • A short description of the alleged violation (the event that caused the complaining party to believe that his or her rights were violated); and
  • The date(s) of the alleged violation(s).

State and federal charge processing procedures, while separate, are quite similar, and sometimes occur simultaneously through the work-sharing agreements between the EEOC and the agency. If a charge is filed with a FEPA and is covered by federal law, the FEPA will usually dual file the charge with EEOC to protect federal rights. The charge usually will be retained by the FEPA for handling. If a charge is filed with EEOC and is covered by state or local law, EEOC dual files the charge with the state or local FEPA, but ordinarily retains the charge for handling.

The following is how an EEOC discrimination charge proceeds through the agency. Similar procedures would be used by a state FEPA in processing a charge, although they may differ in some ways.

The employer discriminates against you in the terms or conditions of your employment, based on an unlawful reason such as your race, age, disability, gender, or religion.

To protect your legal rights, it is always best to contact EEOC promptly when discrimination is suspected. A charge must be filed with your local office of the EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination, in order to protect your rights. This 180-day filing deadline may be extended to 300 days if the charge also is covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law. For charges of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, only state laws may extend the filing limit to 300 days. These time limits do not apply to claims under the Equal Pay Act, because under the law persons do not have to file a charge with EEOC first in order to have the right to go to court. However, since many such claims also raise Title VII sex discrimination issues, it is usually a good idea to file charges under both laws.

Shortly after the charge is filed, the EEOC sends a notice to your employer that you filed a charge.

The employer will respond to the charge by filing what is usually called a Position Statement with the EEOC.

Based on an initial review of the charge, an interview of the employee, and the employer's response, the EEOC may assign a charge for priority investigation if the initial facts appear to support a violation of law. OR

When the evidence is less strong, the EEOC may assign a charge for follow up investigation to determine whether it is likely that a violation has occurred.

OR

The EEOC may seek to settle the charge. Settlement can be sought by the agency at any stage of the investigation if the charging party and the employer express an interest in doing so.

The charge may be selected for EEOC's mediation program if both the charging party and the employer express an interest in this option. Mediation is offered as an alternative to a lengthy investigation. Participation in the mediation program is confidential, voluntary, and requires consent from both charging party and employer.

OR

The EEOC may dismiss the charge. The charge can be dismissed at any point if, in the agency's judgment, further investigation will not establish a violation of the law. The charge may be dismissed at the time it is filed or if an initial, in-depth interview does not produce evidence to support the claim.

OR

Under Title VII and the ADA, the employee or his or her attorney may request a notice of right to sue from EEOC 180 days after the charge was first filed with the Commission, even if the investigation is not complete. Under the ADEA, a suit may be filed at any time 60 days after filing a charge with EEOC, but not later than 90 days after EEOC gives notice that it has completed action on the charge.

If the EEOC does not dismiss the charge or if it is settled (either through mediation or otherwise) and the agency decides to investigate the charge, it begins an investigation to determine whether there is cause to support the belief that your employer did discriminate against you. In investigating a charge, the agency may make written requests for information, interview people, review documents, and, as needed, visit the facility where the alleged discrimination occurred.

At the end of the EEOC's investigation, if the evidence obtained does not establish that discrimination occurred, this will be explained to the charging party, and a right-to-sue letter will be issued by the agency, closing the case and giving the charging party 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court. OR

At the end of the EEOC investigation, if the evidence establishes that discrimination has occurred, the employer and the charging party will be informed of this in a letter of determination that explains the finding. The EEOC will then attempt conciliation with the employer to develop a remedy for the discrimination.

If the case is successfully conciliated (or if a case has earlier been successfully mediated or settled) the case his over. Neither the EEOC nor the employee will be allowed to go to court unless the conciliation, mediation, or settlement agreement is not honored. OR

If the EEOC is unable to conciliate the case successfully, it will decide whether to bring a suit in federal court itself. If the agency decides not to sue, it will issue a notice closing the case and giving the charging party 90 days in which to file a lawsuit in federal court. This is known as a right-to-sue letter.

In Title VII and ADA cases against state or local governments, the Department of Justice takes these actions. A right to sue letter is also issued at any time a charge is dismissed.

After receiving the right-to-sue letter, your attorney will prepare a complaint to file in federal court within 90 days. Under the EPA, the lawsuit must be filed within two years of the discriminatory act (three years for willful violations), which in most cases is payment of a discriminatory lower wage.

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