What Does the EEOC Do?

EEOC's mission represented by Equal Opportunity word cloud

A lot of people have heard of the EEOC, but like many government agencies, it isn't always clear what falls within the organization's charge. If you are like many people you may be wondering "What does the EEOC do?"

In this blog post, I will review the role of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in reviewing, negotiating, and litigating discrimination claims. I will explain the laws the EEOC is charged to protect, and explain what happens after you file an EEOC complaint.

The EEOC Enforces Civil Rights Laws

The EEOC is charged with enforcing a wide variety of discrimination laws:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • The Equal Pay Act
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The Rehabilitation Act
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

Together, these statutes protect against illegal discrimination at work, in housing, and within the federal government. The EEOC hears complaints related to discrimination based on:

  • Race or color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex or gender
  • Marital status or pregnancy
  • Old age
  • Disability
  • Retaliation for participating in an investigation of discrimination

In 2012, the EEOC took the position that discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation and gender identity or expression was illegal under existing gender discrimination laws. Over the next four years, there were a significant number of EEOC decisions and federal court rulings on sexual orientation discrimination and transgender harassment. However, there has not been a clear, binding decision from a Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, under the Trump Administration, the EEOC's website relating to those issues have been taken down. It isn't clear whether the EEOC will continue to put a high priority on these cases.

What Does the EEOC Do With Private Complaints?

If you think you have been discriminated against, you have 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC (or 300 when state discrimination laws also apply). You can do so with or without the help of an attorney. But what does the EEOC do once it gets that complaint?

When you file an EEOC complaint against your private employer (rather than the federal government), the matter is referred to an EEO counselor. The counselor will inform you of your rights and of how the process works.

The EEOC Doesn't Take Every Complaint

Even before your complaint goes to a hearing, the EEOC may still dismiss it if:

  • The counselor believes there is no claim
  • The same claim has already been decided (or is pending)
  • The complaint was filed too late
  • You have other complaints that are unrelated to your current complaint that aren't disclosed to the counselor
  • You already filed a civil lawsuit on the issue
  • You already chose to use a different procedure (including grievances) instead
  • You fail to communicate with the EEO counselor
  • You have complained about the EEOC process in the past
  • You have filed your complaint for an improper purpose

If some or all of your complaints are being dismissed, the EEOC must explain the reason in writing. You have the right to appeal the decision once all of your claims are resolved.

Informal Counseling

Unless the counselor dismisses your complaint, he or she will work with you and your employer to attempt to resolve the matter informally. If your need is urgent, or if your employer is not interested in resolution, you may also request a formal hearing before an EEOC administrative judge.

The informal counseling process can take up to 30 days. If your concerns aren't resolved within that period the EEOC will send you a Notice of Final Interview, which gives you 15 days to file a complaint in the appropriate agency based on the nature of the discrimination alleged.

EEOC Mediation

Many EEOC complaints get referred to mediation instead of the informal counseling process. This is a form of alternative dispute resolution where you and your employer agree to sit down with a neutral mediator to try to find a resolution that everyone can live with. However, many employers will not agree to mediate, particularly if you work for a smaller business not as familiar with the process.

EEOC Investigations

If the informal process or mediation fail to resolve the matter, the formal investigation begins. Your employer will be asked to provide a "Respondent's Position Statement" in response to your complaint. You are entitled to review and respond to that statement. Depending on the nature of your complaint, the EEOC may also visit your workplace, interview witnesses, gather documents, and ask your employer additional questions. This process can take time -- in 2015, an investigation took an average of 10 months to complete.

EEOC Notice of Right to Sue

An EEOC complaint ends one of three ways:

  1. The EEOC negotiates a voluntary settlement with you and your employer
  2. The EEOC is not able to determine that the law has been violated or decides that it will not pursue a lawsuit on your behalf. In either of these cases, it will send you a "Notice-of-Right-to-Sue." It signals that you have completed the administrative process and may now proceed to court through a private lawsuit.
  3. The EEOC files a lawsuit in federal court on your behalf.

A Notice of Right to Sue doesn't necessarily mean you have a losing case. The EEOC has limited resources, so it only chooses to represent employees with strong cases in certain high-priority areas. If your case doesn't fall within one of those priorities, you will need to turn to a private employment discrimination attorney to file a lawsuit on your behalf.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, we are happy to help you through the EEOC process. Whether you are preparing for a formal hearing or have been sent a Notice of Right to Sue, our employment discrimination lawyers will review your case and help you prepare a strategy to get the relief you need. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation and get your case started.

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