If you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, you may not file a lawsuit against your employer until you file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the EEOC can't settle your complaint, you then receive a notice of right to sue.
Types of Discrimination
Under the law, your employer can't discriminate against you based on your gender, religion, race, nationality, disability or age if you're 40 or older. You may be able to file a discrimination suit if any of these factors were a basis to deny hiring, promotions, raises, benefits or access to training programs. Harassment and retaliation for filing complaints also count as discrimination.
Attempt to resolve the discrimination with your company before contacting the EEOC. This may include talking to the person harassing you or discriminating against you or filing a formal, written complaint with your company. Document all instances of discrimination and any complaints you file and responses you receive. Include as much detail as possible, including the date, time and location of the incident, individuals involved and details about the event. If your employer doesn't resolve your complaint, you'll need this information for your lawsuit.
If you can't settle your complaint, file a charge of discrimination at a state or local equal employment opportunity office. When you file with the local office, it will automatically file a complaint with the federal EEOC. If no local agency is in your area, file with the federal EEOC. In most cases, you must file the charge within 180 days of discrimination, unless your state has a law that allows you up to 300 days to file.
After filing your complaint, the EEOC may decide to send your case to mediation to attempt to settle your complaint with your employer. If mediation doesn't resolve your complaint, an investigator reviews and investigates your case.
In cases where the investigator determines a violation occurred, the EEOC attempts to settle the matter with your company. Settlement options may include back pay, promotions, reinstatement, reasonable accommodations and monetary compensation for court costs and attorney's fees.
The EEOC may file a lawsuit if it can't reach a settlement with your employer. If it decides not to file a lawsuit or the investigator doesn't find evidence of a violation, you receive a notice of right to sue.
Right to Sue
Once you receive your notice of right to sue, you must file a discrimination lawsuit within 90 days or lose your right to sue. Hire an attorney to help you file the suit and represent you in court.
The EEOC and local equal employment agencies may have referral lists of attorneys. Select an attorney that specializes in employment law through organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association.
Schedule a phone or in-person consultation with the attorney. Most attorneys offer consultations at no cost. Ensure the attorney you select understands the details of your case, is respectful and answers all of your questions in an understandable manner. Check your state bar association to make sure that the attorney you select is in good standing.
Some special-interest groups and organizations may take on your case if it's relevant to their mission. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union may provide free litigation services for selected cases. But the ACLU only takes cases when resources are available and when the case deals with significant civil rights issues that impact many people.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Filing a Charge of Discrimination
- NOLO: Filing an EEOC Charge of Discrimination
- NOLO: Suing for Harassment or Discrimination
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers
- NOLO: Finding and Hiring an Employment Discrimination Lawyer
- ACLU: About Getting Help
- Hailshadow/iStock/Getty Images