EEOC is the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you have been the victim of discrimination, this is likely the first step you’ll have to make before filing a lawsuit for discrimination. They’re at http://www.eeoc.gov.
Deadlines: If you work for anyone but the federal government, you have to file a charge of discrimination (this is not a lawsuit) within 180 days from the date of discrimination, except where the state has its own agency that takes discrimination charges. Then the deadline is 300 days. Federal employees have 45 days to see their designated EEO counselor.
Filing your charge: If you’re represented, your attorney can file the charge for them and you don’t have to wait hours to meet with an investigator and go through the intake process, which can also take an hour or more. EEOC is also doing some intakes by phone and online, so check with your local office.
Mediation: The EEOC will then either decide to ask the parties if they want to mediate to try to resolve it, or send it straight to the investigator. If they ask you if you want to mediate, you should say yes.
Investigation: The investigator will send out a standard list of questions to the employer, along with the charge. The employer will answer in what is called a “Position Statement.” You will then not be given a copy of the position statement, but you still have to respond to it. Some investigators will call your lawyer or you, give a quick summary of a 50 page position statement on the phone, expect the attorney or you to take notes, and then will give 10 days to respond. A nice investigator will agree to summarize the position statement in a letter, and then give 10 days to respond.
Results: EEOC is, most likely, going to issue a “Notice of Dismissal and Right to Sue.” This doesn’t mean you don’t have a case. It means EEOC was unable to determine whether or not you have cause for your charge because the evidence is disputed.
The other possibility is a “cause” finding. All you’ll likely get out of this, besides a moral victory, is “conciliation,” an attempt to get the parties to settle. The other thing you get with a “cause” finding gets is a review by the EEOC’s attorneys. EEOC can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the employee. This almost never happens, so don’t count on it.
a. You may run into an investigator that will tell you that you don’t have a case. It’s still your right to file there and they have to take the charge if you insist. But they’re right if you’re trying to file for anything other than race, age, sex, national origin, genetic information, disability, religious, color, pregnancy discrimination or retaliation for having objected to one of these.
b. The EEOC’s mediation program is quite excellent, so I always say yes to it. Many employers and charging parties decline, which is a missed opportunity. If there’s a lawsuit, they have to mediate anyhow, and this is free.
c. The employer will be given almost infinite extensions in which to respond to your charge, which can cause the EEOC process to drag on about a year (lately, at least in my area, it’s taking around 2 years). You will not be given much more than a one week extension. Whether or not your lawyer or you are hospitalized, dying, on vacation, or kidnapped, the EEOC hates to give charging parties much of an extension to respond to a position statement. The most that is usually granted is 7 – 10 days.