Any employee experiencing discrimination must know about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It’s the agency responsible for enforcing nearly every employment discrimination law on the books. In addition, the EEOC regularly issues regulations and guidelines about employment discrimination laws which have significant impact on the way that courts interpret discrimination cases.
The importance of the EEOC is based on the way it was created back in 1964 and its purpose as delineated in the Civil Rights Act. Even though compromises during its inception caused it to have less enforcement authority than originally intended, the EEOC has become a dynamic advocate for employees all over the nation seeking protection and justice in employment discrimination cases.
What is the EEOC?
The EEOC was initially conceived as part of legislation sent to Congress in 1964 under the administration of President John F. Kennedy. The legislation was drafted to confront the growing injustices experienced by African Americans in all walks of life due to unequal status under the law. During 1964, public protests and demonstrations brought these injustices to the forefront of political debate, making it necessary to invoke changes in the law to address discrimination on a national scale.
This legislation, known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, carved out the right of protected groups of individuals to work and live free of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age and disability. It changed the landscape of rights for groups who historically experienced discrimination in many areas of life, including employment. Also, it created a government agency to enforce the provisions outlined and to ensure that discrimination could be prevented before it started as often as possible.
This agency is the EEOC, in operation since 1964 through its headquarter offices in Washington, D.C. and through 53 field offices located throughout the nation. The EEOC has the authority to investigate discrimination charges against employers covered by a number of laws including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).
In addition to investigating employment discrimination issues, the EEOC also has other roles. It submits and publishes regulations to the Federal Register annually. These regulations play an important role in the way employment discrimination law is interpreted in the courts across the nation. Similarly, the EEOC’s guidelines and MOU’s play an important role in governing the conduct of both employers and employees regarding discrimination in the workplace.
How Can the EEOC Help in a Discrimination Case?
The EEOC can help with conciliation (settlement), litigation and, in some instances, referring employment discrimination cases. When the EEOC investigates a case, it may decide that conciliation is best. This means that it will attempt to settle the matter outside of court with the employer. This could involve a recommendation for mediation or an attempt to get an employer to put an end to the discrimination through a mutual agreement and settlement orders.
The EEOC also may decide to represent the charging party in court. In this case, the agency will defend the rights of an employee based on the federal laws it has authority to enforce. The Office of General Counsel conducts litigation on the behalf of the EEOC under the leadership of the General Counsel, a position appointed by the President and approved for a 4-year term by the Senate.
Beneath the Office of General Counsel are several district offices. These offices provide legal advice and help to litigate cases within a designated geographic area. It is important to note that the EEOC will only litigate select cases based on the evidence presented. This means not all charges proceed to court with EEOC representation. Some cases will be dismissed by the EEOC after investigation.
The EEOC may also refer certain discrimination cases to the Department of Justice for representation. These cases, called disparate impact cases, involve widespread patterns or practices of discrimination in terms of the policies or procedures of a company or organization.
How does the EEOC Handle Discrimination Charges?
The EEOC charge filing process begins when an employee files at one of the EEOC field offices. An intake process helps employees discuss the nature and facts of a case, usually through an initial questionnaire. The EEOC investigators will use the intake process and the questionnaire to evaluate the case and determine its next steps. Employees typically have 180 days from the last date of discrimination to file a charge with the EEOC under federal law.
Once the intake process is complete, the EEOC investigation will begin. The agency will contact your employer and conduct a process of discovery in order to gather facts and information regarding the alleged discrimination. It is during this time that the agency may recommend mediation or attempt conciliation.
At the conclusion of an employment discrimination investigation, the EEOC may either decided to litigate the case or to dismiss it. If the case is dismissed, the agency will release a notice, called a Notice of Right to Sue, to the employee which allows them to pursue the case as a private cause of action in a court of law.
An employee may write to the EEOC to request a Notice of Right to Sue letter. However, this can only be attempted when the employee has allowed at least 180 days for the EEOC to complete its investigation. In some cases, a Notice of Right to Sue is not required in order to file a private cause of action. This is the case under the ADEA and the EPA.
File a Charge with the EEOC with the Assistance of a Qualified Attorney
The EEOC charge filing process is not easy. It contains many twists, turns and exceptions. Obtaining the assistance of a qualified attorney to help with litigation and other aspects of an employment discrimination case is highly recommended. Even though the EEOC charge handling process does not involve litigation at the outset, it is always a good idea to find an attorney who can help with the charge filing process as soon as possible.