Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of many protected statuses, including age, disability, race, national origin, religion and gender. It also forbids employers from retaliating against employees who make a discrimination complaint. The agency responsible for enforcing these laws is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Employees who feel that they have experienced discrimination by an employer have between six to 10 months to file a complaint. From that point, there is a process involved in resolving the matter.
Prior to conducting an investigation, the EEOC may ask the employee who filed the complaint to participate in mediation with the employer in an attempt to resolve the complaint. Mediation takes place with the facilitation of a third party not involved in the case. If mediation is unsuccessful at reaching a resolution, or if it does not take place at all, the process moves on to the next step.
The EEOC will launch an investigation into a charge of discrimination that mediation cannot resolve. It has the authority to issue an administrative subpoena to any employer who does not cooperate willingly with the investigation. During the investigation, the EEOC will gather evidence that may help to make a determination as to the case’s outcome. This may include collecting documents and interviewing staff members and witnesses to the alleged discrimination.
Following its investigation, the EEOC will make its determination. At this point, several different outcomes for the employer are possible. The EEOC may determine that the employer has violated the law and attempt to reach a voluntary settlement. The EEOC will provide legal assistance to the employee who made the complaint in the event that the employer refuses the settlement. The appropriate legal action to take may eventually be for the Department of Justice to decide.
Another possibility is that the EEOC will find no evidence of legal wrongdoing by the employer. However, that does not necessarily mean that the case is over. In that scenario, the EEOC will issue the employee a Notice-of-a-Right-To-Sue. The employee can then file a civil action against the employer in court.