LEGAL GUIDE
Written by Avvo Staff | Dec 17, 2015

EEOC complaint or company procedure? Your options for dealing with discrimination

Whichever path you take, documenting the discrimination is important part of getting a resolution.

If you feel you've been the target of workplace discrimination in violation of federal, state, or local laws, you have 3 main options. You can file an EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaint, address the issue through state agencies, or address it through your employer.

What qualifies as discrimination

As a general rule, employers and their agents can't discriminate against employees based on age, disability, race, gender, religion, and other factors.

It's important to note that these protections can expand over time. For example, New York discrimination lawyer Vincent Peter White reports that the EEOC now considers discrimination based on gender identity to be a form of gender discrimination.

Steps to take after discrimination occurs

If your employer discriminates against you, how you respond can affect the outcome of your case significantly. Follow these steps to protect yourself and find a resolution to the problem:

1. Collect documentation: Gather any evidence you might have to prove the discrimination occurred.

2. Research employer guidelines: Read the employee handbook or any other literature that might address discrimination.

3. Attempt resolution: Depending on the issue, you might want to try to resolve the problem internally through your employer.

4. File a complaint: If your employer doesn't respond properly, consider filing an EEOC complaint.

5. Hire a lawyer: Make sure you have a professional in your corner to defend your rights and advise you on how to move forward.

Keep your own records about the steps you take in a discrimination case. A log book or ledger can help you keep track of any paperwork you file or any correspondence you receive.

How to document discrimination in the workplace

The more evidence you gather to prove the discrimination occurred, the better your chances of getting a positive resolution to the problem. Evidence may include internal memos, text messages, emails, and other written communications.

You can also create your own records. When you witness discrimination, write down what happened, who was involved, and when it occurred (both time and date). Keeping a log like this will help EEOC investigators, attorneys, and other people sort through the facts of the case.

Make sure you know your employer's policies regarding discrimination. You might find them in the employee handbook or in other literature your employer hands out to employees.

Finally, never hand over your only copy of a piece of evidence. Always keep the original in your possession (or with your attorney) and make copies for others. That way, no paperwork gets lost permanently.

How to handle the complaint with your employer

You don't have to file a state or EEOC complaint right away. Instead, you can report discrimination to your supervisor or to your company's human resources department. Make sure you document every step of the process. Keep copies of any written reports you make, and ask your employer to document its investigation in writing.

Employers often don't want to admit that discrimination can occur within their organizations. Unfortunately, this means you might not receive a satisfactory resolution with this route. If you don't feel that your employer has taken your case seriously, you might want to seek help from an outside agency.

If you do end up going through the process, never admit that you might have overreacted to someone else's statements. Additionally, avoid signing any document without first consulting a discrimination or employment lawyer.

How to file a formal complaint

You either can file an EEOC complaint, or file a complaint with a Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA), which usually exists as part of the state government. Most FEPAs follow similar rules and guidelines as the EEOC.

A FEPA might offer a faster resolution to your case because it's a smaller organization than the EEOC. Additionally, FEPAs often file joint cases — one internally and one with the EEOC.

The complaint process itself typically consist of several steps, including:

  • Meeting with an EEP (equal employment opportunity) counselor

  • Participating in alternative dispute resolution

  • Submitting a complaint in a timely fashion (within 15 days of meeting with the EEO counselor)

  • Waiting for the EEOC or FEPA to investigate your claim

  • Attending a hearing where your claim is heard

  • Appealing decisions if necessary

If you feel you need to leave your job, it's worth talking to an attorney first. Resigning at the wrong time, or resigning too quickly, can limit the amount of damages you can recover after a discrimination complaint.

Why having an attorney can help

Regardless of whether you file a formal complaint, consider consulting an attorney. They can advise you on the best path forward to get your complaint resolved and help protect your legal rights during the EEOC complaint process.

And if your case winds up in court, having an attorney generally means you'll recover more damages, even after they take a portion of the recovery as a fee.

You also don't want to face your employer in court without a lawyer. Even companies that don't have their own legal team will generally hire a lawyer to protect their interests.

Whether you file a formal complaint or handle the problem within your company, it's essential to stand up against discrimination. You'll protect your own rights, and make your workplace safer for everyone else too.

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