EEOC Begins a Rollout of New Online Charge-Handling System

ACT Digital Pilot Program Allows Online Interaction With Employers


Last week the EEOC announced that 11 of its 53 offices will begin a pilot program called ACT Digital to digitally transmit documents between the EEOC and employers regarding discrimination charges. This is the first step in the EEOC's move toward an online charge system that will streamline the submission of documents, notices and communications in the EEOC's charge system. This system applies to private and public employers, unions and employment agencies.

The EEOC receives about 90,000 charges per year, making its charge system the agency's most common interaction with the public. The EEOC's ACT Digital initiative aims to improve customer service, ease the administrative burden on staff, and reduce the use of paper submissions and files.

The first phase of ACT Digital allows employers against whom a charge has been filed to communicate with the EEOC through a secure portal to download the charge, review and respond to an invitation to mediate, submit a position statement, and provide and verify their contact information. The newly designed EEOC notice of a charge will provide a password-protected log in for the employer to access the system in the pilot offices. Employers will also have the option of opting out of the pilot program and receiving and submitting all documents and communications in paper form.

EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang commended ACT Digital as an innovative first step in streamlining the agency's charge system.

"The EEOC's pilot of a digital charge system is an important step forward that will benefit the public and our staff," Chair Yang noted. "This will improve our responsiveness to the public, efficiently utilize our resources, and protect the security of documents in our online system. We encourage employers to provide candid feedback and suggestions during the pilots so we can make adjustments to strengthen the system."

The pilot begins May 6, 2015 in the following EEOC offices: Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, Norfolk, Raleigh, Richmond and San Francisco. The EEOC offices in Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis and Phoenix will also begin their pilots by the end of May 2015.

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File a Charge With the EEOC Immediately Or Risk Losing Your Case

Some prospective clients are surprised to learn that most of wrongful termination or sexual harassment matters than an employment lawyer handles cannot be taken straight to court. This is, unfortunately, true.

Most cases having to do with discrimination or wrongful termination relating to an EEO category (age, race, sex, disability, etc) must go through a required administrative process before a lawsuit can be filed. Even more confusing is the fact that you may have more than one administrative agency to choose from when deciding where to file. Does it matter where you file? Sometimes yes. This administrative process and the choices that must be made early on in your case is one of the best reasons to consider hiring a lawyer earlier rather than later. More on why that is later. Short of that, here are some answers to some of the more basic questions regarding administrative filings:

What Types Of Cases Must Be Filed Administratively?

If your case involves potential claims for discrimination or termination based on an EEO category (age, race, sex, disability, religion, etc) then you probably need to file administratively. Claims for sexual harassment or retaliation for making a complaint or participating in an investigation of an EEO-related matter also must be filed administratively.

When Do I Need to File? Short Answer: IMMEDIATELY.

No really. The limitation periods for these types of claims vary depending on numerous factors but they are all short. In many states you will lose your right to pursue an action if you don’t file a Charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the event or occurrence you are complaining about. If you are a federal worker the deadline can be as little as 45 days. These are hard, fixed deadlines. There is no extending them because you had a good reason for delay. In many states, you only have 180 days to file a charge with the EEOC or lose your right to sue FOREVER, no matter how blatant the discrimination.

Where Do I Need to File

The default place to file your discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation Charge is with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They have offices in most metropolitan areas. Learn more here: http://eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm. You can also file a Charge by contacting them by phone at (800) 669–4000 (be prepared to wait an hour or more). However, depending on where you live, it might be better to file with a state or city agency that has a work-sharing agreement with the EEOC. Contact an employment lawyer near you to help you decide what is the best course of action in your area.

What Is the Process?

Filing a Charge is relatively easy once you arrive at the agency’s offices. You fill out a short form and then meet with an investigator who will complete the Charge documents for your signature. Each field office has its own procedures for appointments or walk-ins so check the website or call ahead for best results. It is always helpful if you bring with you to the meeting any information or papers that will help the investigator understand your case. For example, if you were fired because of your performance, you might bring with you the letter or notice telling you that you were fired and your performance evaluations. You might also bring with you the names of people who know about what happened and information about how to contact them.

Important: Keep in mind that the EEOC (and similar state agencies) can only investigate issues having to do with terminations and/or discrimination relating to EEO issues or retaliation for having made a complaint regarding EEO issues. They don’t investigate overtime or other pay issues and cannot help you if your termination is just because “my boss was mean.” Your issue must be EEO-related.

What Happens Next?

Once you have filed a Charge you may be invited to mediation. This is a topic for another article but the short version is that mediation is a voluntary process where the two sides of the dispute (you and your employer) sit down with an EEOC mediator for free to see if you can work out your differences and reach a pre-suit settlement. It is an excellent free service that the EEOC provides and I highly recommend it for most cases. Keep in mind, however, that you will benefit from having a lawyer with you at a mediation unless your case is so small that you wish to settle it for very little money (typically less than $15,000.00. If your case is worth more than this baseline amount, having a good lawyer will typically enhance the value of your case by more than you will end up paying your lawyer in fees up front or in a contingent fee on the back end.

How Do I Find A Good Lawyer?

This can be a difficult task but it is worth your time to find the right lawyer for your case. Geography plays a big role here. In some parts of the country there will be many qualified lawyers to choose from. In other areas there will be few. To get started, review my article on How to Hire an Employment Lawyer.

EEOC Releases 2014 Statistics

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today released a comprehensive set of fiscal year 2014 private sector data tables providing detailed breakdowns for the 88,778 charges of workplace discrimination the agency received. The fiscal year ran from Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014.

The number of charges filed decreased compared with recent fiscal years, due in part to the government shutdown during the reporting period. While charge filings were down overall compared to the previous fiscal year, first quarter charge filings--which included the period of the shutdown--were 3,000 to 5,000 less than the other quarters.

Among the charges the EEOC received, the percentage of charges alleging retaliation reached its highest amount ever: 42.8 percent. The percentage of charges alleging race discrimination, the second most common allegation, has remained steady at approximately 35 percent. In fiscal year 2014, the EEOC obtained $296.1 million in total monetary relief through its enforcement program prior to the filing of litigation.

The number of lawsuits on the merits filed by the EEOC's Office of General Counsel throughout the nation was 133, up slightly from the previous two fiscal years. A lawsuit on the merits involves an allegation of discrimination, compared with procedural lawsuits, which are filed mostly to enforce subpoenas or for preliminary relief. Monetary relief from cases litigated, including settlements, totaled $22.5 million.

"Behind these numbers are individuals who turned to the EEOC because they believe that they have suffered unlawful discrimination," said EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang. "The EEOC remains committed to meaningful resolution of charges and strategic enforcement to eliminate barriers to equal employment opportunity."

The updated data include the popular tables of Statutes by Issue and Bases by Issue. "Bases" refers to the protected characteristics giving rise to the discrimination, such as sex or age. In contrast "issue" is the discriminatory action, such as discharge or failure to promote.

More specifically, the charge numbers show the following breakdowns by bases alleged in descending order.

  • Retaliation under all statutes: 37,955 (42.8 percent of all charges filed)
  • Race (including racial harassment): 31,073 (35 percent)
  • Sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment): 26,027 (29.3 percent)
  • Disability: 25,369 (28.6 percent)
  • Age: 20,588 (23.2 percent)
  • National Origin: 9,579 (10.8 percent)
  • Religion: 3,549 (4.0 percent)
  • Color: 2,756 (3.1 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 938 (1.1 percent) but note that sex-based wage discrimination can also be charged under Title VII's sex discrimination provision
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act: 333 (0.4 percent)

These percentages add up to more than 100 because some charges allege multiple bases, such as discrimination on the bases of race and color, or sex and retaliation.

In fiscal year 2014, 30 percent of the charges filed with EEOC alleged the issue of harassment on various bases, such as race harassment or harassment on the basis of disability. Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach is a priority issue for the Commission. The January 14, 2015 Commission meeting focused on Workplace Harassment. The new table for All Harassment Charges includes sexual harassment as well as other forms of harassment. Sexual Harassment still remains as a separate table, joined by new tables showing charges of Race Harassment as well as Charges Alleging Harassment Other than Sexual Harassment.

Discharge continues to be the most common issue for all bases under Title VII, the ADEA and the ADA. Allegations of harassment for all bases were the next most frequently cited issue, with the exception of race. For the basis of race, discriminatory terms and conditions of employment was the second most frequently cited issue (9,332), with harassment being the third (9,023).

The updated tables also include Charges by State. The greatest number of charges were filed in Texas (8,035), followed by Florida (7,528) and California (6,363).