Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Complaint Process
This section will explain the process for filing a discrimination complaint with the federal EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
Filing a Complaint.
The process begins when you contact the EEOC and file a formal complaint, called a "Charge of Discrimination," following the steps described in the previous question. When you file your complaint, the EEOC will give you a copy of the complaint, along with your charge number (which is the number used to identify your case).
Notice to the Employer & Mediation.
Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. The EEOC may ask both you and the employer to agree to participate in mediation, which is an informal way of trying to resolve the problem instead of filing a lawsuit.
What happens in mediation? Mediation is an informal way for people to resolve problems with the help of a neutral person (a mediator) who is trained to help people discuss their differences. If you and the employer agree to mediation, the mediator will try to help you both reach a voluntary resolution (settlement agreement). The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong or make a decision about your complaint. Instead, the mediator helps you and the employer work out your own solution to the problem.
Everything that happens in mediation is confidential and free. Mediation can also be a faster way of resolving the dispute, since it usually takes less than 3 months to settle a complaint through mediation. If you and the employer cannot reach an agreement, the EEOC will continue to investigate your case just like any other.
If your case is not sent to mediation, or if mediation doesn’t resolve the problem, the EEOC will ask the employer to respond (submit a written answer) to your complaint, and answer any questions that the EEOC has about your complaint. Then your complaint will be given to an EEOC investigator for investigation.
How the EEOC investigates a complaint depends on the specific facts of your case and the kinds of information that will be helpful. In some cases, an EEOC representative may visit the employer, interview other employees or witnesses, gather documents, and/or take other steps to find out whether the employer committed illegal discrimination. The EEOC may also interview you again, or ask you for other documents or information—so it’s very important to cooperate and keep in touch!
How long will the investigation take? How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that the EEOC needs to get and evaluate. It may take up to 6 months or longer to investigate a charge.
What if the employer refuses to cooperate with the investigation? If an employer refuses to cooperate with an EEOC investigation, the EEOC can issue a subpoena (legal order) that requires the employer to turn over documents and information and/or answer legal questions, and allows the EEOC to enter the employer’s facilities.
After the investigation is completed, the EEOC will issue a decision, and let you and the employer know the results. The decision will say either:
- NO CAUSE—meaning the EEOC did NOT find any evidence that the employer illegally discriminated against you; or
- REASONABLE CAUSE—meaning the EEOC thinks the employer DID illegally discriminate against you.
Your Options After the EEOC Decision.
Depending on what the EEOC decision says, these are your options:
- NO CAUSE decision—If the EEOC does NOT find that the employer illegally discriminated against you, it will send you a Right-to-Sue notice. This notice allows you to file a lawsuit in court against the employer on your own. (However, it may be difficult to win in court without the EEOC’s support.) You must file a lawsuit within 90 days (approximately 3 months) of receiving the Right-to-Sue Notice; otherwise it will be too late.
- REASONABLE CAUSE decision—If the EEOC finds that the employer DID illegally discriminate against you, it will first try to reach a voluntary settlement (called “conciliation”) with the employer. Conciliation usually means that the employer agrees to pay you to cover the harm from the discrimination.
- If the EEOC can’t reach a settlement with the employer, the EEOC’s lawyers may decide to file a lawsuit against the employer on your behalf. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit, it will give you a Right-to-Sue notice, which allows you to file a lawsuit against the employer on your own. You must file a lawsuit within 90 days (approximately 3 months) of receiving the Right-to-Sue Notice; otherwise it will be too late.
This chart summarizes what happens at the end of an EEOC investigation:
What it means
What happens next
What your options are
EEOC does NOT think that the employer illegally discriminated against you
EEOC gives you Right-to-Sue notice
You can file a lawsuit against the employer, but you only have 90 days
EEOC thinks the employer DID illegally discriminate against you
1) EEOC tries to settle with employer.
2) If they can’t settle:
> EEOC files lawsuit against employer; OR
> EEOC gives you Right-to-Sue notice
If EEOC does NOT settle and does NOT file a lawsuit, you can file a lawsuit against the employer. You must file the lawsuit within 90 days of receiving the Right-to-Sue notice.