EEOC – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The EEOC processes allegations of discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, disability, age, and religion. It also handles retaliation charges based on an employee’s or former employee’s participation in some type of protected conduct (usually opposing perceived discriminatory practices or filing a discrimination charge).
In 2007, nearly 83,000 charges were filed with the EEOC. The most common charges involved race (37%), sex (30.1%), retaliation (32.3%), age (23.2%), and disability (21.4%).
What happens when an employee files a charge with the EEOC?
Many employers mistakenly assume there’s a screening process at the EEOC — that if a charge is completely baseless the commission will refuse to accept and investigate it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. By law, the EEOC must accept the filing of a charge, and employees have the unfettered right to file charges no matter how weak the claim.
Once a charge is filed, the EEOC will begin its investigation, and the burden shifts to the employer to explain what happened. Soon after the charge is filed, the employer will receive notice from the EEOC, a copy of the charge, and instructions on what its responsibilities are — usually a demand for information, documents, and/or a position statement.
HR Guide to Employment Law, including avoiding workplace discrimination
Once the EEOC concludes its investigation and issues a ruling, the employee receives a right-to-sue letter. The employee then has 90 days from receipt of the right-to-sue letter to file a lawsuit.
On some occasions, employees receive their right-to-sue letter even before the EEOC completes its investigation. That usually occurs if the EEOC determines that it will be unable to conclude its investigation for some prolonged period and the employee requests a right-to-sue notice.
An employee’s ability to file a lawsuit isn’t dependent on whether the EEOC rules in favor of the employer or the employee. Consequently, an employer shouldn’t get too excited if the EEOC finds in its favor — an employee still has the ability to file a lawsuit regardless of an EEOC “no cause” finding.
Many employers ask: “What’s the point in investing time and money to carefully respond to an EEOC charge?” While that question is certainly understandable, it’s important to remember that a “no cause” finding has some important practical ramifications that can benefit an employer.