As a preliminary matter, in order to initiate a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an individual must satisfy a couple of requirements. Generally speaking, “Any individual who believes that his or her employment rights have been violated may file a charge of discrimination with EEOC” (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2009). John, being an individual, may bring a complaint so long as he alleges that his employment rights have been violated as the result of a type of discrimination specifically recognized by the EEOC. The types of actionable discrimination that are within the EEOC’s jurisdiction include discrimination based on age, disability, equal compensation, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment. In short, John can initiate a complaint by alleging that his individual employment rights have been violated by the private organization as a result of one of the prohibited types of discrimination.
The EEOC complaint filing procedure is somewhat unique; it is unique because John may simply proceed to fill out what is called an intake questionnaire, including any additional documentation that he deems relevant and necessary, and then mail or deliver that documentation to his nearest EEOC representative office. This documentation will qualify as an official discrimination charge pursuant to the governing statute and function as a formal complaint. It must be noted, however, that this documentation will operate as a charge only if “it contains all the information required by EEOC regulations governing the contents of a charge and constitutes a clear request for the agency to act” (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2009). In addition to providing the proper documentation, John must also be careful to comply with the regulations dealing with the proper notification of the respondents named in the discrimination charge, the time limits for filing a discrimination charge, and exploring other state and federal laws which might protect his rights depending on the particular facts of his case.
Once the charge has been filed and accepted, the employer is then notified. There is not, however, one standard way in which these disputes are handled; instead, the EEOC is vested with a great deal of discretion in deciding how to proceed. An initial determination is made regarding the strength of the charge. If there is deemed to be a strong chance of proving a violation of the law then the case is designated as a priority and fast-tracked for resolution. Where the evidence of a legal violence is less persuasive, on the other hand, follow-up investigation is ordered and pursued. The EEOC is granted broad powers when pursuing a follow-up investigation and may “make written requests for information, interview people, review documents, and, as needed, visit the facility where the alleged discrimination occurred. When the investigation is complete, EEOC will discuss the evidence with the charging party or employer, as appropriate” (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2009). Even before an investigation is complete, however, the EEOC may accept a complaining party’s desire to settle a case. When both the complaining party and the employer agree the dispute may be submitted to the EEOC’s mediation program where the policy objective is to try to find a mutually acceptable resolution without lengthy investigatory processes. Should the mediation efforts fail then the investigatory process is reinstated. If the EEOC decides that the offered evidence does not prove a violation of the law then the charge will be dismissed.
In cases where the EEOC finds in favor of the individual claiming unlawful discrimination a letter of determination will be issued to all parties explaining the decision, the basis thereof, and suitable remedies will be provided. In cases where the EEOC finds in favor of the employer then a required notice will be issued to the charging party although no remedies will be granted. These notifications are important because they trigger the time limitations for further review in other courts.
John must take care to comply with the relevant time limitations regarding his right to also file his employment discrimination case in the relevant court:
A charging party may file a lawsuit within 90 days after receiving a notice of a “right to sue” from EEOC, as stated above. Under Title VII and the ADA, a charging party also can request a notice of “right to sue” from EEOC 180 days after the charge was first filed with the Commission, and may then bring suit within 90 days after receiving this notice. Under the ADEA, a suit may be filed at any time 60 days after filing a charge with EEOC, but not later than 90 days after EEOC gives notice that it has completed action on the charge. (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2009).
With these time limitations in mind, John must also determine his rights in
both the state and the federal courts.
State and Federal Courts
It is important for John to remember that the EEOC handles cases that might also be covered by his relevant state or local law, by federal law, and that opportunities for further review of his case may exist in the courts. With respect to the latter there is no conflict; indeed, the EEOC states explicitly that
Many states and localities have anti-discrimination laws and agencies responsible for enforcing those laws. EEOC refers to these agencies as “Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs).” Through the use of “work sharing agreements,” EEOC and the FEPAs avoid duplication of effort while at the same time ensuring that a charging party’s rights are protected under both federal and state law. (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2009).
These work-sharing agreements aside, there are other judicial avenues for resolving the dispute. As a general rule, state courts resolve disputes that arise under state law and federal courts resolve issues that arise under federal law. The United States Supreme Court is authorized to review cases that it chooses arising under federal law or state cases that implicate federal constitutional questions. Not knowing the precise facts underlying John’s discrimination claim the most that can be provided is a brief sketch of his legal options in court.
There are, for instance, certain federal laws which prohibit certain types of employment discrimination but which are not enforced by the EEOC; more specifically, “Other federal laws, not enforced by EEOC, also prohibit discrimination and reprisal against federal employees and applicants” (Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws, 2009). These laws most often provide rules specific to federal employees or to particular federal employers. Internal complaint and mediation procedures are ultimately reviewable by the federal courts.
Generally speaking, federal jurisdiction is a three-pronged system. The districts courts function primarily as a trial court and appellate review is carried out through the circuit courts of appeal and the United States Supreme Court (U.S. Courts. The Federal Judiciary, 2009). The review by the United States Supreme Court, however, is discretionary and most cases are finalized without ever being presented at the highest level. If John’s case arises under a federal law or raises a federal constitutional issue then he may pursue a case in the federal court so long as the aforementioned procedural prerequisites have been satisfied.
A similar structure is available at the state level. The interesting difference is that state decisions, from a state supreme court, can be reviewed federally only when the state ruling is deemed to be preempted by a federal law or when a state ruling is subjected to a federal constitutional challenge. In conclusion, John must weight his particular circumstances against many legislative frameworks designed to prevent unlawful types of employment discrimination.
Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws. U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission. Available at:
U.S. Courts. The Federal Judiciary. Available at: http://www.uscourts.gov/
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Available at: