The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a government agency that enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).
These laws make it illegal for an employer to discriminate or harass a job applicant or employee based on the person’s race, color, sex, religion, pregnancy, national origin, age (if 40 or older), genetic information, or disability. These laws also prohibit discrimination against an employee who complains about illegal conduct, files a charge with the EEOC, or participates in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Who Is Covered by EEOC Laws?
Most of the laws enforced by the EEOC apply to employers that have at least 15 employees. The exception is age discrimination law, where the ADEA covers employers that have at least 20 employees. Employers covered by these federal laws may not take actions such as termination, failure to hire, demotion, harassment, salary reductions, benefits reductions, or denial of training based on an employee’s membership in a protected group.
The limit to file a complaint with the EEOC after an act of discrimination is 180 days, though this period of time is extended to 300 days if your state or local government has a law banning the same type of discrimination; state and local governments also have their own filing deadlines for discrimination claims. If your case arises from a pattern of illegal discrimination, you should assume the EEOC's 180-day time limit begins with an event that makes you recognize there is a pattern of discrimination. It is important to first file a complaint directly with your company, if at all possible, by using the procedures specified in your employee handbook or other manual on the topic. If that fails, you can file a claim with the EEOC. It can be helpful to retain an employment discrimination attorney before you file a complaint with the company or the EEOC to make sure that your paperwork is accurate and complete.
The EEOC is authorized to investigate an employee’s complaint against an employer that is covered by the law. The agency seeks to accurately evaluate the allegations and make findings. If the EEOC finds illegal discrimination, it will attempt to settle the charge. If more than 180 days pass from the day you file a charge against an employer, the EEOC is required to give you a Notice of Right-to-Sue if you ask for it, even if it has not completed the investigation. However, if fewer than 180 days have passed, the EEOC will only provide the notice if it will not be able to finish its investigation in 180 days.
If the EEOC is unable to settle a case, it may file a lawsuit to protect the individual’s rights and the public’s interests. The agency makes a decision on whether to take action itself based on the seriousness of the violation, the type of legal issues, and the potential for a case to meaningfully combat workplace discrimination at large. However, due to its limited resources, the EEOC does not always file lawsuits in cases where serious discrimination is found.
In addition to administering the investigation of complaints, the EEOC provides guidance on all aspects of its efforts to combat discrimination. For example, it issued Enforcement Guidance in connection with criminal conviction discrimination under Title VII. The EEOC also ensures that federal agencies and departments comply with its regulations and provide technical assistance to federal agencies related to complaint adjudication.
Retaliation for Filing an EEOC Claim
Your employer is not permitted to retaliate against you for filing a complaint with the EEOC or for cooperating in the investigation of a complaint. Any materially adverse action taken against you in response to your complaint may qualify as retaliation. For example, if you are reassigned to a less desirable position after reporting workplace discrimination, you may be able to assert that you were retaliated against if the position pays less or is less prestigious or more arduous. If you are suspended without pay because you filed a complaint with the EEOC, you may be able to assert retaliation even if you are repaid for the period of suspension later.