The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: What is it? How does it operate?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal law enforcement agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints in the workplace based on an individual’s race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, genetic information and retaliation for reporting or opposing a discriminatory practice. The EEOC mediates thousands of discrimination complaints each year prior to investigation. The EEOC is also empowered to file discrimination lawsuits against employers and to adjudicate claims of discrimination that are brought against federal agencies.
History of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The EEOC was officially created in 1965 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In its early days, the commission was met with resistance. Its first complainants were female flight attendants and in its first few years of operation the Commission completely ignored complaints of sexual harassment. However, in the 1970’s the EEOC was granted the power to litigate complaints and it was granted jurisdiction over state and federal governmental bodies. The EEOC then began to crack down on all forms of complaints. The number of complaints with the EEOC has grown over time and today it receives over 90,000 complaints per year.
How does the EEOC operate?
There are 53 EEOC offices nationwide and they are located in many of the major metropolitan areas of the country. An employee can file charges at any one of the offices in the country and, depending on the nature of the issue, they have between 180 and 300 days to file. Filing can be done in person or through mail. The EEOC does not accept filings over the telephone or online.
The EEOC takes great pains to keep the information in the filed charges as confidential as possible; however, they are required by law to present the filed charge to the employer so that they can respond to it. But, when it comes to public disclosure, the EEOC is required to keep the information confidential. So although the employer has knowledge, the greater public is not informed.
The remedies that the EEOC provides depend upon each individual case. The cures may include placement in a certain job position, re-hiring, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. Each case is analyzed on the merits of its facts and what remedy will be appropriate for each circumstance.
Filing a lawsuit
If after 180 days the EEOC has not filed a lawsuit on your behalf or settled your issue to your satisfaction, you may request a “right-to-sue-letter.” This letter will allow you to contact a lawyer and file suit for your case in court. You have 90 days to file suit after the letter has been granted. Keep in mind, however, that you must file with the EEOC before you can bring a discrimination suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.