What are the time limits for filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge?

A person must file an EEOC charge within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory event. This can be extended to 300 days in some states. However, most states follow the federal 180-day rule. Carefully check this and make sure that you timely file a claim. If you do not file a claim with the EEOC, then you lose your right to sue under federal anti-discrimination laws.

This may be another advantage of filing a claim under a state anti-discrimination law. For example, employees in Tennessee can bypass the administrative charging process and file a claim under the Tennessee Human Rights Act directly in court. Once again, this shows the advantage of having a good attorney who can help guide you through these important decisions.

What happens once an employee files a charge of discrimination?

Once an employee or former employee files a charge, the EEOC then conducts an investigation. The EEOC does not have the resources to conduct full-blown investigations in every case. They often focus on charges the agency thinks are particularly egregious or those in which a broad class of employees are involved (class action suits). The EEOC will perform some level of investigation , which can include interviewing witnesses, visiting employer sites, requesting employment documents and other actions. The EEOC will then tell its findings to both the charging party and the employer.

What if the EEOC finds there has been discrimination?

The EEOC will inform the charging party and the employer of its findings. It will attempt to reach conciliation with the employer to remedy the situation. If the conciliation is not successful, the EEOC may initial legal action on its own on behalf of the employee or it may issue a right-to-sue letter to the employee.

What is a right-to-sue letter?

A right-to-sue letter is a letter from the EEOC to the employee that complained of discrimination in an EEOC charge. The letter informs the employee that the EEOC has decided not to pursue the matter further and informs the employee that they can now file a lawsuit against the employer.

Gender discrimination in the workplace often stems from preconceived stereotypes about what is

Gender discrimination in the workplace often stems from preconceived stereotypes about what is "men's work" and what is "women's work." Fortunately, there are legal steps you can take to protect yourself (iStock).

What if the EEOC does not find there has been discrimination?

If the EEOC does not find reasonable cause of discrimination, that does not end the matter. The EEOC will issue a right-to-sue letter to the charging party, which then means that the charging party has 90 days (from the issuance of the letter) to file suit in federal or state court. When the EEOC sends a right-to-sue letter to an employee, it does not necessarily mean that the employer did not think the employee was discriminated against; rather, it could simply mean that the EEOC has chosen to focus its attention and litigation resources on larger class-action type cases where an employer has discriminated against a whole bunch of people instead of just one employee.

Does the EEOC's finding of no discrimination prevent a subsequent court proceeding?

No, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in McDonnell Douglas v. Green (1973) that the EEOC's finding of no reasonable cause for discrimination does not prevent a subsequent employment discrimination lawsuit. Similarly, courts have determined that an EEOC finding of reasonable cause of discrimination does not mean that a plaintiff-employee has established a basic claim of discrimination.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Chandler v. Roudebush (1976) that prior EEOC administrative findings may be admitted as evidence under the federal rules of evidence. Trial judges generally have the discretion to determine the admissibility of such administrative agency findings. Remember that the existence of discrimination still depends upon the facts of particular cases, not upon the EEOC's findings. Some courts have determined that EEOC findings have limited probative value.

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