I filed a complaint with the EEOC. What happens next?

Before being able to bring a lawsuit for discrimination, every discriminated individual must first file a complaint with a state or federal agency such as the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) or the Equal Employment in Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The PHRC is the state agency that investigates discrimination complaints brought by individuals. It investigates discrimination complaints according to state law. The EEOC is the federal agency that investigates discrimination complaints brought by individuals. It investigates discrimination complaints according to federal law.

What does the EEOC do?

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law.

What is the process?

At this point, you have already filed a Complaint with the EEOC. Once you file your Complaint, your case will be assigned to an investigator. The investigator will then begin to investigate the allegations alleged by the discriminated individual. The investigation can take significant time depending on the circumstances of the allegations. The EEOC is usually backlogged as well, therefore resulting in a longer wait time for the investigation to be completed.

The investigator may contact you several times while investigating your Complaint. The investigator may ask for more information or suggest some helpful tools in resolving your case, like EEOC mediation.

What happens when the investigator is done investigating a claim for discrimination?
Once the investigator has completed the investigation, the EEOC will make a determination on the merits of the charge. Realistically, the investigation is simply a few phone calls and typically the employer denies everything. Due to the lack of resources to investigate further, most claims are found to have no reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred.

The discriminated individual or “charging party” will be issued a letter called a Dismissal and Notice of Rights that tells the charging party s/he has the right to file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days from the date of receipt of the letter. The employer will also receive a copy of this document.

If the EEOC determines there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred, both parties will be issued a Letter of Determination stating that there is reason to believe that discrimination occurred and inviting the parties to join the agency in seeking to resolve the charge, through an informal process known as conciliation.

Where conciliation fails, EEOC has the authority to enforce violations of its statutes by filing a lawsuit in federal court. If the EEOC decides not to litigate, the charging party will receive a Notice of Right to Sue and may file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days.

It can take the EEOC years to fully investigate your case and issue a determination.

What if I don’t want to wait for the EEOC to fully investigate my complaint?

Because the EEOC can take a significant time investigating a claim, you can be proactive and take matters into your own hands. An individual has the right to request that the EEOC issue a Notice of Right to Sue Letter after 180 days of your filing.

What is a Notice of Right to Sue Letter?

Requesting a Notice of Right to Sue Letter will allow you to bring suit in federal court. The EEOC will basically release your discrimination complaint and allow you to further progress your case by filing a lawsuit in federal court. It is important to note that the discriminated individual must bring suit in federal court within 90 days of receiving the Notice of Right to Sue Letter.

Why request a Notice of Right to Sue Letter?

The benefit to requesting a Notice of Right to Sue Letter is that a discriminated individual can bring a lawsuit and seek damages. If the discriminated individual allows the EEOC to fully investigate a complaint, it could take years. If the discriminated individual doesn’t want to wait the amount of time it takes to fully investigate its complaint, he/she can request that the EEOC release its complaint and file a lawsuit. A Notice of Right to Sue Letter will allow the discriminated individual to bring suit faster.