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With two months to go in the federal government's fiscal year, we are entering the "Red Zone" of EEOC enforcement.
Typically, the EEOC files the majority of its discrimination lawsuits for the year during the Red Zone. Last year, the agency filed 175 of its 261 lawsuits in the months of August and September, reports Corporate Counsel. This year, experts expect a similar trend.
As getting sued by the EEOC should be the very last resort for organizations, it is a good time to review the proper steps for resolving an EEOC discrimination charge.
To start off, your organization should take steps to avoid a discrimination charge from being filed in the first place. Your organization should train employees on discrimination and harassment. And when complaints do arise, it is the job of human resource departments and corporate counsel to investigate and possibly discipline offending employees.
If an EEOC charge is brought, you will be notified within 10 days of the charge and you will be provided with the name and contact information for the investigator assigned to your case.
A charge does not mean that your organization engaged in discrimination, only that the EEOC is investigating. You and the charging party will be asked to provide information to the investigator and you should promptly respond to all requests for information. This is also your opportunity to tell your side of the story as to why discrimination did not occur. The average investigation takes about six months.
Throughout these months, you and the charging party will have an opportunity to resolve the dispute informally through mediation or settlement. So if you think you may have violated the law, this may be a cheaper time to resolve the dispute.
After the investigation, the EEOC will determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. If not, the charging party can bring a private lawsuit. In other words, the EEOC will not handle the case for them.
If EEOC does determine there is reasonable cause that discrimination has occurred, both parties will be issued a Letter of Determination. Again, before a lawsuit is filed, you and the EEOC will have an opportunity to resolve the dispute informally in conciliation. At this point, the EEOC believes that it has enough evidence to possibly win a lawsuit against you. So it may be a good idea to settle. Only when conciliation fails, will the EEOC file a lawsuit in federal court.
As you can see, there are many steps in between an EEOC discrimination charge and an EEOC Red Zone lawsuit. You will have many opportunities to resolve the dispute before a lawsuit, and getting sued by the EEOC should be the last resort.