Many types of discrimination claims must be processed through the EEOC's administrative process before a lawsuit can be filed in a court of law.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, more commonly known by its initials, EEOC, was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to enforce Title VII. Today, the EEOC is also responsible for enforcing other anti-discrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Equal Pay Act (EPA), though the latter provides an independent cause of action in Federal Court.
Before filing a Federal law suit for discrimination or harassment, you must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or its Texas counterpart, the TWCCRD. The EEOC then investigates the charge by asking both the employee, known as the Complainant, and the employer being charged, known as the Respondent, for documents and information relevant to the charge.
At the end of its investigation, the EEOC may do one of three things: 1) Close its file without completing the investigation; 2) Conclude that it was unable to establish a violation of the law; or 3) Conclude that there is substantial evidence of a violation. This last is sometimes called a “Cause Determination”.
If the EEOC closes its file without completing the investigation, or is unable to conclude that discrimination or sexual harassment took place, it will issue a Notice of Right to Sue. The Complainant then has 90 days to file her case in Federal Court. Once that 90 days has passed the employee loses her opportunity to file in Federal Court. This is a very dangerous deadline and must be watched carefully. If you have received a Right to Sue letter, you must seek immediate legal representation if you wish to pursue your rights in court.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the EEOC is overworked and underfunded and, therefore, does not often make Cause Determinations. Importantly, the agency’s failure to do so has absolutely no bearing on the strength of an individual’s case. Many such cases are still filed in court, and it is possible to win or settle such a case even though EEOC did not make a finding in your favor.
Navigating Your case through the EEOC successfully
The EEOC process often takes well over a year to complete if you do not have a lawyer to assist you. After those 180 days pass, you can end the investigation and request a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC. This allows you to file a lawsuit in court. However, once this Right to Sue letter is issued, you have only 90 days to file in court. So don't request this letter until you have a lawyer and are ready to move forward.
The best option is to contact our office before filing an EEOC complaint. We can explain to you what to write and what to do.
The complaint is a critically important document. It spells out what you believe happened and why you think discrimination took place.
The document is a sworn statement and great care needs to be taken in wording it properly to protect your rights.
Always be friendly and professional when dealing with the EEOC. Most of their investigators really do want to help. But their caseloads are large and they simply cannot be as responsive to charging parties as they would like to be. Getting frustrated or being uncooperative with the agency will not help you achieve your goals.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against, contact our office so we can discuss what happened, why you think you have been the victim of discrimination, how the law may apply, what the EEOC is likely to do, and what your best options are for protecting your rights and interests.