If you believe your employment rights have been violated, you may want to file discrimination charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you would like to protect your identity, another individual or entity -- such as a labor union -- may file the charge for you. The EEOC will contact you and your employer within 10 days of your filing, followed by an investigation of your charge. Investigations take a few months to complete, depending on the complexity of the charge.
If the EEOC decides that your employer did in fact violate anti-discrimination laws, it will either seek a settlement with the employer or take the case to court. If the agency decides not to sue, it will send you a "Notice of Right to Sue" regardless of its findings from the investigation. But you may not sue your employer in federal court without first filing charges with the EEOC.
You may also file a discrimination charge if you are a U.S. citizen employed by a U.S.-based company operating abroad. Just file your charge with the EEOC district office closest to the employer's U.S. headquarters.
Before Filing Charges
The agency does not process discrimination charges online; you must file in person or by mail. But the EEOC's online assessment tool is designed to help you determine whether filing charges with the agency is the best course of action. If so, you may fill out an online Intake Questionnaire and either mail it or bring it with you to your local EEOC office.
You will be asked for the following information when filing your discrimination charges:
How to File Discrimination Charges
The EEOC does not accept charges via telephone but you may speed the process by calling 1-800-669-4000 and submitting basic information. The agency will then forward that information to your nearest EEOC field office, which will then contact you to schedule an in-person meeting. Provide the information listed above if you choose to file by mail, including an explanation of why you believe you were discriminated against (race, religion, gender, etc.) and your signature.
To file discrimination charges in person, first locate the EEOC field office nearest you. Bring in any documentation that might help shed some light on your case, such as harassing emails or performance evaluations. It also helps if you can provide the names and contact information of other individuals who know about the alleged violation. You may bring someone with you to the meeting, including an attorney. If you need an interpreter or some other special assistance, let the field office personnel know ahead of time.
Time Limits for Filing Charges
All discrimination charges must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged violation. If the charge also is covered by state or local laws, this filing deadline is extended to 300 days. However, the deadline is not extended for age discrimination charges if only a local law prohibits age bias (must be a state law). As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to contact the EEOC immediately after you suspect discriminatory acts by your employer.
One exception involves charges under the Equal Pay Act, which don't require the filing of EEOC charges prior to filing a lawsuit. But Equal Pay Act claims often raise Title VII sex discrimination issues as well, so the EEOC advises such individuals to also file Title VII charges with the agency (within the given time limit).
Federal employees have a much shorter time limit and must file discrimination charges within 45 days from the date of the alleged violation.
Talk to an Experienced Attorney
Are you facing employment discrimination? Whether you are dealing with unfair wage issues or a hostile environment, you probably want to hold your employer accountable. If you have been discriminated against because of your sex, religion, or other protected characteristic and you want to file a claim, then follow these instructions. If you need additional help or if your situation is very complex, talk to a qualified discrimination lawyer.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.