Step by Step Guide to Filing an EEOC Complaint
If you've faced discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation at work, you can file an EEOC complaint for free. This guide walks through the steps of filing an EEOC complaint, including the EEOC investigation and what to do if the EEOC declines your complaint.
File Your ComplaintThe EEOC enforces federal employment rights protections. If you face discrimination because of race, gender, sex, age, religion, or disability, you can file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC also handles sexual harassment and retaliation complaints.
The EEOC makes it easy to file a complaint. You can file your complaint online or in person at an EEOC office. You can also file at any state or local Fair Employment Practice Agency, by mail, or by phone. You have 180 days to file a claim, or 300 days if you are also filing with a state or local agency.
MediationBefore investigating your complaint, the EEOC may suggest mediation between you and your employer. The process aims to resolve the dispute without an investigation or lawsuit.
During mediation, you and your employer meet with an EEOC mediator to work toward an agreement. The mediation is not legally binding in the same way as a lawsuit. The mediator cannot order either side to accept the agreement.
You have the right to refuse mediation. If you decline to participate, the EEOC will open an investigation
EEOC InvestigationIf you decline mediation or the mediation process does not reach a solution, the EEOC will open an investigation. During this step, the EEOC will investigate your claims. They may interview your employer, visit your workplace, and interview witnesses. The EEOC can also request personnel files, company policies, and other documents that may prove your case.
If the EEOC investigation cannot determine whether a law has been broken, you will receive a Notice of Right to Sue letter. This letter lets you file a lawsuit in court against your employer. In this case, your case skips to step 6.
If the EEOC investigation uncovers a legal violation, the EEOC will pursue a settlement for your case.
SettlementDuring the investigation, the EEOC may uncover evidence that your employer broke the law. The EEOC can then pursue a settlement with your employer. The settlement can include compensatory and punitive damages.
EEOC LawsuitThe EEOC may not be able to reach a settlement with your employer. In this case, the EEOC can file a lawsuit on your behalf. Even though the EEOC files the suit, you may benefit from having your own lawyer to help you navigate the process.
The EEOC can also choose to issue you a Notice of Right to Sue so that you can file your own lawsuit.
Notice of Right to SueAfter the EEOC investigation, the EEOC will issue you a Notice of Right to Sue. This letter gives you permission to file your lawsuit in court. The notice also acts as the end of the EEOC's investigation of your claim.
A Notice of Right to Sue says nothing about the strength of your case. It simply means the EEOC will not be able to conclude the case itself.
Once you have received the notice, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days. For that reason, it's a good idea to reach out to employment lawyers by the time you file the EEOC complaint.
You can also request a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC at any point after filing your complaint. If more than 180 days have passed, the EEOC must give you the notice. You can receive the notice sooner if the EEOC cannot finish its investigation within 180 days.
File Your LawsuitAt the close of the EEOC investigation, you can choose to file your own lawsuit. EEOC investigations may end with a settlement negotiated during mediation or by the EEOC after its investigation. If neither of these options works, you can file a lawsuit.
An employment lawyer can help you navigate the process of filing an EEOC claim and then filing a lawsuit. The EEOC can also recommend employment lawyers to help with your suit.