Established as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency charged with enforcing and interpreting federal discrimination statutes. The EEOC is responsible for issuing regulations interpreting those laws, holding hearings, administering the laws and accepting, investigating and mediating charges of discrimination lodged by employees. The EEOC also works to mediate and foster settlements between employees and their employers.
Federal Statutes Under the EEOC’s Jurisdiction
Though the EEOC does not have enforcement responsibility for every federal employment discrimination law, its purview does extend to most of them. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act all fall under the oversight of the EEOC.
In its role as chief interpreter and enforcer of these critical statutes, the EEOC handles a wide range of responsibilities and tasks, including:
- issuance of regulations and other guidance pertaining to federal discrimination statutes
- processing and adjudicating discrimination complaints filed by federal employees
- handling discrimination charges filed by a wide range of employees
It is important for potential plaintiffs to note that filing charges with the EEOC is a necessary step before any lawsuit can ever be filed in a given matter. Employees who fail to do so will not be able to proceed with litigation, as they will not have afforded the agency an opportunity to review the case first. When the EEOC receives charges from an employee, all claims will be assessed and a decision will be made, which could include:
- dismissal of the charges due to lack of jurisdiction (deadline for filing had passed or there was no violation of the law at issue)
- pursuit of a full investigation of the charges
- attempted mediation of a settlement in the matter
- issuance of a finding that cause exists to believe that discrimination occurred
- issuance of a finding that no such cause is present
- EEOC litigation of the charges on behalf of the aggrieved employee (though, this is rare)
Getting the Green Light for Litigation
If you feel you have experienced any type of discrimination that is prohibited by the federal statutes that fall under the jurisdiction of the EEOC, you may be anxious to begin the process of litigation. As mentioned before, you will first need to file a complaint with the agency in order to proceed, but you do have options. Should you wish to pursue your lawsuit even though the EEOC is continuing to process your charges, you can always request a “right to sue letter.” Even if you do not make this request, the agency will issue such a letter at the conclusion of their process, making it plain that you have fulfilled the requirement of filing with the EEOC and can therefore take your matter to court.
For knowledgeable answers to all of your questions about EEOC charges and the process of filing suit under a federal discrimination statute, a seasoned Florida employment attorney can be an invaluable resource.