In our previous blog, we discussed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, important federal anti-discrimination legislation as it relates to Title VII. As employers, we obviously strive to avoid litigation in any area of employee discrimination; however, we may be faced with defending ourselves at some time. This blog reviews the major points of the EEOC complaint process.
In any case of alleged discrimination, the individual – referred to as charging party or plaintiff – must file an administrative charge with the federal or state agency responsible for enforcing antidiscrimination laws or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC has field offices nationwide. As a general rule, claims must be filed within 180 days after the alleged discriminatory practice; in states that handle their own claims processing and investigation (referred to as deferral states), the plaintiff may have up to 300 days to file with the EEOC.
To handle the growing number of complaints, the EEOC, after performing an initial priority assessment and before undertaking a formal investigation, may ask the employer to initiate a mediation process with the charging party to attempt a resolution.
Here are the steps in the complaint process:
- The EEOC sends a letter to the employer informing them of the charge and requesting information by a stated deadline. The employer can attempt to settle the case prior to responding as long as it’s within the deadline.
- Based on the information received, the EEOC determines if the employer is subject to EEOC jurisdiction and if the charge is a violation within EEOC jurisdiction. Any charges found to be unrelated are immediately dismissed. Typically, the EEOC responds to the charging party within 120 days.
- The EEOC makes a determination as to “probable cause” to confirm if discrimination has occurred. If there is no probable cause, notification is sent to both parties and the charging party is given notice of the right to file suit in court within 90 days. If there is probable cause, the EEOC attempts to work with the employer to provide the appropriate remedies on a voluntary basis to resolve the complaint. If the complaint cannot be settled in this manner, the EEOC may litigate the case on behalf of the charging party or issue a finding that there is cause and give the party the right to litigate the claim in court within 90 days.
- If the EEOC does not make a determination, the charging party may request a right-to-sue letter after 180 days. Once the charging party receives that letter, he or she must file suit in court within 90 days.
Keep in mind that this information is only a brief outline of the basic process of the EEOC’s handling of discrimination complaints. HR professionals and employers should familiarize themselves with the details of the entire process in order to understand the employer’s rights and obligations, including all time frames.