Your Firm Has Just Received a Charge From the EEOC:
An employee who complains of harassment or discrimination can report his or her complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2000, the number of charges brought by the EEOC against employers reached 79,896. Receiving a complaint letter from the EEOC can be a shocking event for an employer. The following information about the EEOC complaint process may help minimize the shock should your firm ever find itself on the receiving end of an EEOC complaint letter.
The EEOC enforces the following federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Equal Pay Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, or in retaliation for opposing job discrimination, filing a charge, or participating in proceedings under these laws. The EEOC's mandate is to determine in a fair and objective manner whether the laws it enforces have been violated.
The laws enforced by the EEOC cover all private employers that employ 15 or more individuals, except for ADEA, which covers employers with 20 or more employees. Any individual who believes that his or her employment rights have been violated because of his or her race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability or due retaliation may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
Employees must file their employment discrimination charge with the EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination. If the employer is also covered by a state or local employment discrimination law, the time to file a charge with the EEOC is extended to 300 days.
EEOC investigators interview individuals alleging employment discrimination to determine the potential merits of the charge and assess whether they will investigate or immediately dismiss the charge. The EEOC will notify the employer by mail within 10 days of receiving a charge. The employer is asked to respond to the allegations in the charge and provide documentation to substantiate its response. As soon as the EEOC receives the employer's written position statement and any other relevant evidence, they will determine whether to investigate further, propose settlement or dismiss the charge.
If the EEOC decides that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that a violation exists, the charging party is given a dismissal notice that includes the right to file a lawsuit in federal court. The laws also permit the charging party to choose to proceed to federal court instead of waiting for the EEOC to complete its investigation. In some cases, the EEOC may issue a notice of right to sue upon the charging party's request.
If the EEOC decides that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, the investigator explains the rationale to the employer. A written determination and an invitation to enter into conciliation discussions follow this. The purpose of these discussions is to eliminate the discrimination and provide relief to the charging party and others, if appropriate, without going to court. Negotiations will continue for a reasonable period until the case is resolved or conciliation fails. If the conciliation efforts fail, the EEOC will determine if it will sue the employer. In addition, if the EEOC receives many complaints about the same employer, it has the power to bring federal suit against the employer on its own.
A firm can resolve a charge without an investigation by using the EEOC's free mediation program. The program is voluntary at all stages of the process. Neutral mediators provide employers and charging parties the opportunity to reach mutually agreeable solutions, while making efficient use of their time and money. In the event that mediation does not result in a settlement, the charge is referred for investigation. Information disclosed by the parties during mediation will not be used as a part of the EEOC's investigation. Mediators are bound by confidentiality provisions and may not provide information about the mediation to the EEOC. While EEOC investigations can take up to 14 months to resolve, all cases successfully mediated are brought to a close within three months. Therefore, your firm may want to seriously consider mediation as an alternative method of dispute resolution.
It is also possible to receive notification of a discrimination charge by your state or local Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA). The EEOC works in cooperation with most of the 100 FEPAs throughout the country through Work Sharing Agreements. Each charge of discrimination that is covered by both an EEOC-enforced statute and an FEPA enforced law or ordinance is dual-filed under both laws. However, it is most likely that only one agency or the other will conduct an investigation. Some state and local ordinances cover more forms of discrimination than federal law. In those cases, the EEOC may dismiss a case because no discrimination was found under federal law, while the state or local agency may continue with its investigation in its effort to enforce broader state and local discrimination laws.
Monetary remedies for unlawful discrimination include awards of lost wages, prejudgment interest, and compensatory damages. Future compensatory damages and punitive damages may also be awarded, however, these two types of damages are capped up to $500,000 depending on the size of the employer.
In summary, receipt of an EEOC or local FEPA charge notice does not mean that the government is accusing your firm of discrimination. It means that someone has alleged that your firm has discriminated against him or her and the EEOC's s mandate is to investigate the charge and determine whether there is a reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred. If your firm receives an EEOC charge notice the firm should obtain advice from an attorney experienced in employment law matters prior to preparing your response.