EEOC Complaint Process

If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of disability in employment, you have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A complaint is also called a charge of discrimination and an individual, group or organization that files a charge of discrimination is known as the charging party.

Who can file charges of discrimination?
An applicant or employee who feels that she has been discriminated against in employment on the basis of disability can file a charge with EEOC. An individual, group or organization also can file a charge on behalf of another person. An individual, group organization that files a charge is called the "charging party".

What are the time limits for filing charges of discrimination?
A charge of discrimination on the basis of disability must be filed with EEOC within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act.

Note: If there is a state or local fair employment practices agency that enforces a law prohibiting the same alleged discriminatory practice, it is possible that charges may be filed with EEOC up to 300 days after the alleged discriminatory act. However, to protect legal rights, it is recommended that EEOC be contacted promptly when discrimination is believed to have occurred.

Can an individual file a lawsuit against an employer?
Yes, an individual may file a lawsuit against an employer, but she or he must first file the charge with EEOC. The charging party (person who is filing the complaint) can request a "right to sue" letter from the EEOC up to 180 days after the charge was first filed with the Commission. A charging party will then have 90 days to file suit after receiving the notice of right to sue. If the charging party files suit, EEOC will ordinarily dismiss the original charges filed with the Commission. "Right to sue" letters also are issued when the EEOC does not believe discrimination occurred or when conciliation attempts fail and EEOC decides not to sue on the charging party's behalf .

Can I file a charge on more than one basis (disability discrimination)?
EEOC also enforces other laws that bar employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national original, and age (persons 40 years of age and older). An individual with a disability can file a charge of discrimination on more than one basis.

For example: A cashier who is a paraplegic may claim that she was discriminated against by an employer based on both her sex and her disability. She can file a single charge claiming both disability and sex discrimination.

If I file a complaint, am I protected from retaliation?
It is against the law for an employer or other covered entity to retaliate against someone who:

  • files a charge of discrimination,
  • participates in an investigation,
  • or opposes discriminator practices.

Individuals who believe that they have been retaliated against should contact the EEOC immediately Even if an individual has already filed a charge of discrimination he or she can file a new charge based on retaliation.

If you believe you have been retaliated against, you should promptly contact the investigator looking into your charge of discrimination. The investigator will talk with you about the situation and add a claim of retaliation to your charge, if appropriate. If a claim of retaliation is added to your charge, the EEOC will tell the employer and then investigate the retaliation claim along with the rest of your charge. Keep in mind that the strict deadlines for filing a charge also apply when you want to add to a charge.

Note: The fact that you filed an earlier charge may not extend the deadline. For this reason, you should contact the EEOC as soon as possible.

If I file a claim, what confidentiality rights do I have?
Information obtained from individuals who contact EEOC is confidential and will not be revealed to the employer until the individual files a charge of discrimination. When an individual contacts the EEOC, s/he will be asked to provide information that will be used for record-keeping purposes and to determine whether the situation is covered by EEOC.

Once a charge is filed, the individual's name and basic information about the allegations of discrimination will be disclosed to the employer. By law, the EEOC is required to send a copy of the charge to the employer within 10 days of the filing date. During the course of the investigation, information about the charging party and the respondent will be kept confidential by EEOC and will not be disclosed to the public by the EEOC.

Note: EEOC employees are subject to strict confidentiality requirements by law.

When you file a charge, you must provide your name. Your name must appear on the charge, and it must be signed by you. The EEOC is required by law to give your charge to the employer so that the employer can answer the claims made against them.

If you wish to remain anonymous, the EEOC will accept a charge that is filed on behalf of someone else who has been the victim of discrimination. The charge can be filed by a person or an organization. In such cases, the EEOC usually does not tell the employer who the charge was filed on behalf of, but the employer is told the name of the person or organization who filed the charge on your behalf.

In practice, it may be difficult to hide the identity of the person who believes they have been the victim of discrimination during the investigation, even though a name is never released, because of the circumstances of the charge.

A parent can also file a charge "on behalf of" a minor child or a child with a mental impairment.

How does the EEOC process discrimination complaints?
A charge of employment discrimination may be filed with the EEOC against a private employer, state or local government, employment agency, labor union or joint labor management committee. When a charge has been filed, the EEOC calls these covered entities "respondents."

Within 10 days after receipt of a charge the EEOC sends written notification of the receipt to the respondent and the charging party.

EEOC begins its investigation by reviewing information received from the charging party and requesting information from the respondent. Information requested from the respondent initially, and in the course of the investigation may include the following.

  • Specific information describing the discrimination issues raised in the charge.
  • The names and contact information for witnesses who can provide evidence about issues in the charge;
  • Information about the business operation, employment process, workplace, and personnel and payroll records (Note: All or part of the data-gathering portion of an investigation may be conducted on-site, depending on the circumstances.)
  • A respondent also may submit additional oral or written evidence on its own behalf.
  • The EEOC will also interview witnesses who have knowledge of the alleged discriminatory act(s).
  • The EEOC may dismiss a charge during the course of the investigation for various reasons. For example, it may find that the respondent is not covered by the ADA, or that the charge is not filed in a timely manner.
  • The EEOC may request additional information from the respondent and the charging party. They may be asked to participate in a fact-finding conference to review the allegations, obtain additional evidence and, if appropriate, seek to resolve the charge through a negotiated settlement.

The charging party and respondent will be informed of the preliminary findings of the investigation--that is, whether there is cause to believe that discrimination has occurred and the type of relief that may be necessary. Both parties will be provided opportunity to submit further information.

After reviewing all information, the Commission sends an official "Letter of Determination" to the charging party and the respondent, stating whether it has or has not found "reasonable cause" to believe that discrimination has occurred.

What if the EEOC concludes that no discrimination occurred?
If the investigation finds no cause to believe discrimination occurred, the EEOC will take no further action. The EEOC will issue a "right-to-sue" letter to the charging party (person filing the complaint), who may choose to to file a private suit.

What if the EEOC concludes that discrimination did occur?
If the investigation shows that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, the EEOC will attempt to resolve the issues through conciliation and to obtain full relief consistent with the EEOC's standards for remedies for the charging party. The EEOC also can request an employer to post a notice in the workplace stating that the discrimination has been corrected and that it has stopped the discriminatory practice.

What happens if conciliation fails?
At all stages of the enforcement process, the EEOC will try to resolve a charge without a costly lawsuit. If the EEOC has found cause to believe that discrimination occurred, but cannot resolve the issue through conciliation, the case will be considered for litigation. If the EEOC decides to litigate, a lawsuit will be filed in federal district court. If the Commission decides not to litigate, it will send the charging party a "right-to-sue" letter. the charging party may then initiate a private civil suit within 90 days, if desired. if conciliation fails on a charge against a state or local government, he EEOC will refer the case to the Department of Justice for consideration of litigation or issuance of a "right to sue" letter.

Remedies to Employment Discrimination

The "relief" or remedies available for employment discrimination, may include hiring, reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, reasonable accommodation, or other actions that will put the individual in the position that he or she would have been in, had been no discrimination.

Remedies may also include payment of the attorneys' fees, expert witness fees an court costs.

Compensatory and punitive damages also may be available where intentional discrimination is found. Damages my be available to compensate for actual monetary losses for future monetary losses, for mental anguish, and inconvenience. Punitive damages also may be available if an employer acted with malice or reckless indifference.

This information is developed by the EEOC.