There are numerous federal anti-discrimination in employment laws. These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each of these laws requires an employee claiming discrimination to exhaust the law’s administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit in court. This means that the employee is required to file a charge (or complaint) of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or a cooperating state agency such as the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission). There are strict filing deadlines and procedures which vary from state to state. An employee who fails to file a charge with the EEOC and/or fails to permit the EEOC complete its investigation may be precluded from pursuing the claim in court.
So what is the purpose of the EEOC and how should I best take advantage of the process? The EEOC investigates claims of discrimination, interprets and enforces anti-discrimination laws, determines whether or not there is probable cause to conclude that discrimination has occurred, and occasionally, brings a lawsuit on behalf of aggrieved employees. For individual employees or employers, the EEOC investigation presents an opportunity to learn about the other side’s case, organize their own case, attempt to settle the matter, and begin to get ready for court. It is important to take the EEOC investigation seriously, provide the information requested by an Investigator in a timely fashion, and treat the entire matter as the first step in a litigation that may one day end with a jury trial. What occurs in an EEOC investigation often affects the outcome of a trial, so it is essential that planning and strategy is implemented wisely at this stage. Although lawyers are not required at the EEOC investigation stage, it is highly recommended to have an experienced attorney represent you before the EEOC.