Many employees are not aware that before you can you file a lawsuit in court regarding an employment discrimination or employment retaliation case, you generally need to go through an administrative agency first. Typically that is the EEOC. Today, we are going to discuss the who, what, where, when, and why of filing an EEOC Charge of Discrimination.
WHO AND WHERE do you file and EEOC Charge?
The EEOC stands for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s the federal agency that investigates claims of discrimination based on EEO categories, age, gender, race, national origin, religion, and disability, as well as claims that individuals have been retaliated against for reporting discrimination or for having been part of an investigation or supporting someone who has reported discrimination. The EEOC has a counterpart in many states and cities. Here in Texas, its counterpart is the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division. So we have a state agency and a federal agency that both basically have the same jurisdiction. And in Texas, those two agencies work together. They have a work sharing agreement. So you can file either with the federal EEOC or you can file with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division, and they will share information with each other and effectively cross-file your charge with the other agency.
WHAT do you file when you go to the EEOC?
So what do you file when you go to the EEOC? Well, you file a document that the agency calls a charge of discrimination. That’s a very specific form that the federal government has printed. The Texas Workforce Commission has a form that looks very similar to it, although it’s a little bit different. That form requires several pieces of information regarding you and regarding the employer about which you are reporting or complaining. And then it also requires a small amount of factual information regarding the nature of your claim.
HOW do you file a charge of discrimination?
How do you file a charge of discrimination? Well, there’s a couple of different ways that you can do it. And, in fact, you don’t have to have a lawyer to file a charge of discrimination. You can file the charge on your own. How do you do that? Well, you go to eeoc.gov, that’s the agency’s website, and there are forms that you can fill out on the website where you provide the agency with certain required pieces of information. Now, unfortunately, the agency is very overbooked. And so after you fill out that information, you can plan to wait for a number of weeks or even months before you’ll have an appointment with an EEOC investigator to discuss your case. Then once you’ve had that appointment with the EEOC investigator, they will actually prepare the formal charge document for you. And they will provide that to you for you to electronically sign. And then at that point, your charge is filed and their investigation will begin. That does take some time. The other way that you can file it is by retaining an attorney to help you out with that process. So you could go to a qualified employment lawyer near you, and if you retain that lawyer, they can help you file that charge. Because an employment attorney has access to the forms on their own and also access to ways to file those charge documents directly with the agency, typically, an employment attorney will be able to help you fill out your charge documents and file them much quicker than if you file through the EEOC yourself. They can also make sure that you’ve dotted all the Is, crossed all the Ts, and gotten all the necessary information in the charge document, which can be important because down the road, your lawsuit that you might choose to file against a former employer will actually be limited by what was in the charge. So if you didn’t adequately described your situation in the charge document that you file with the EEOC, you may not be able to bring a claim in court based on your complaint. So it is very important that your charge document be completed properly. So that is another possible reason to speak with an employment lawyer and retain their services. But you’re not required to. You can go straight to the EEOC and file it on your own if you wish.
WHEN should you file your EEOC charge?
This is very important. The short answer is, as soon as possible. File your EEOC charge as quickly as you can. State and federal laws have different timelines and deadlines for when you must file a charge in order to preserve your claim against your former employer. Here in Texas, if you’re filing under federal law, you have up to 300 days from whatever it is that you’re complaining about regarding your former employer. Typically, a termination that you believe to be wrongful, let’s say. So you have 300 days from the date of your termination to file that charge. If you want to file under state law with the Texas Workforce Commission, you only have 180 days to file a charge in order to preserve those state law claims. Now, 180 days is not much. That’s only six months. So it’s very easy to allow six months to go by from a termination date and not get that charge on file. So if you do think that you have a potential claim of discrimination or retaliation against an employer, move swiftly, you need to get that charge on file just as soon as you can.
WHY file with the EEOC?
Why do we have to file with the EEOC and/or TWC? The reason is very simple. If you intend to pursue a claim of discrimination or retaliation, you can’t simply go straight to court with that type of claim. Instead, you are actually required to file that type of claim with the EEOC or with a state counterpart agency prior to taking that claim to court. If you don’t take that step and go to the administrative agency, then you won’t be able to file a lawsuit based on those claims. So it’s very important that you do so.
You might also be asking, “If the dates are shorter to file under the TWC than they are with the EEOC, not just just wait and file under federal law? And this is true to a point. However, state law and federal discrimination laws differ in some important respects. So if you’re claiming a type of discrimination, say age discrimination in federal court versus in state court, there may be certain advantages to filing in under the state statute as well as the federal law. Frankly, it can get a little complicated and that’s a good reason why you might want to talk to an employment lawyer about it. But the bottom line is, if you move quickly and file your charge within 180 days of whatever the event is that you’re challenging, then you will have done everything you can to preserve all of your options down the road should you later retain counsel and decide to file a lawsuit.
SUMMING IT UP
So that’s the who, what, where, when, why, and how of filing an EEOC charge. If you would like to see the video version of this post, you can find it here.