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Facing discrimination at work? Get to know the EEOC

On Behalf of | Jan 21, 2024 | Employment Law |

Employees who are facing unfair treatment in the workplace may be in a position to seek justice. When mistreatment occurs as a result of retaliation for exercising one’s protected rights or involves the targeting of someone for their legally protected characteristics, it may be unlawful.

Employees who are harmed as a result of unlawful conduct in the workplace don’t generally start by suing those who have violated their rights. Instead, they start by seeking legal guidance and alerting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

What is the EEOC?

The EEOC is a federal agency that specifically enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It also protects individuals from retaliation for exercising their legally protected rights. 

What does this mean, practically speaking?

If an employee believes they have been unlawfully discriminated or retaliated against, they generally must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC before they can file a lawsuit against their employer. This effort is required for claims under the laws that the EEOC enforces. Meaning, that if an employee is filing a complaint under state law, their approach will need to be altered. But, for violations of federal law, this is how the process of seeking justice begins. 

Once a charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that unlawful mistreatment has occurred. During this process, the EEOC may propose mediation, offering an opportunity for the employee and employer in question to resolve the issue with the help of a neutral mediator.

If the EEOC finds reasonable cause, the agency will try to settle the charge. If the agency is unable to secure an acceptable settlement agreement, the case may be referred to its legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who may file a lawsuit. Alternatively, if the EEOC decides not to sue, it will issue a “Notice of Right to Sue,” allowing the affected worker to file a lawsuit to pursue justice in the civil courts. 

Ultimately, understanding the EEOC’s purpose and processes can empower unlawfully mistreated workers to seek justice and to better ensure that their rights are upheld in the workplace. Legal guidance is always helpful in these situations.