Prior to filing a complaint in federal court for employment discrimination an individual must first file what is known as a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Commission, also known as the EEOC, is the federal agency which is charged with investigating complaints of employment discrimination and harassment brought under a host of federal laws prohibiting race, age, sex, religious, national origin or disability discrimination or harassment.
There are deadlines for filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. Those deadlines vary with the state in which the employee worked and even the type of claim that is being brought. In Tennessee, an employee has 300 days from the date of notice of illegal employment action to file a Charge of Discrimination with EEOC.
Prior to filing a Charge of Discrimination with EEOC, the individual should have some idea of the type of claim he or she is making because the EEOC has limited jurisdiction. For example, if you have a complaint of retaliation because you complained about or refused to do some illegal act for the employer, the EEOC cannot help you. Beyond that, however, it is also possible that the EEOC counselor does not have a complete understanding of state law and could advise you incorrectly as to whether you have a state law claim or not. It is also possible that if the individual discusses his or her employment law complaint in the incorrect terms, the EEOC counselor may not correctly understand the claim and either dismiss it outright or dismiss after only a cursory investigation. If either happens, the entire value of filing an EEOC Charge of Discrimination will be lost.
Because of this, it is a good idea to talk to an experienced employment law attorney prior to filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. It may be that you have some other options which filing with the EEOC will foreclose. It is also possible that you could get a better understanding of the law and your claim by consulting with someone who is on your side. In any event, EEOC is much like any other government agency and you are better served to know what your rights and options are before you go talk to them. The EEOC is there to serve you, but they also work with employers and most often the EEOC counselor is not your best source for employment law information.