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Legal How-To: Filing an EEOC Workplace-Discrimination Complaint

Most discrimination suits based on federal employment law require that an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint be filed first. For those who feel they have suffered discrimination in the workplace, filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC is essential to successfully litigating a discrimination claim.

So where do you even begin? Here's a general overview on how to properly file an EEOC workplace discrimination complaint:

1. Is the EEOC the Right Agency for Your Complaint?

The EEOC doesn't handle every type of employment case, but its online assessment tool can tell you if it is the proper place for your complaint. After a short questionnaire, the assessment tool will notify you if the EEOC is right for your discrimination complaint and the location of the nearest EEOC office.

2. Be Aware of Deadlines.

Discrimination victims have 180 calendar days to file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. Some states and cities have parallel anti-discrimination laws to those enforced by the EEOC, and in those places, the deadline may be extended to 300 calendar days. If you file after this deadline, you may be barred from suing for employment discrimination under federal law.

3. Fill Out an Intake Questionnaire.

You'll then need to fill out this EEOC intake questionnaire, which asks for:

  • Your contact and identifying information,
  • Your employer's information,
  • Your history with that employer,
  • An explanation of your discrimination complaints,
  • Specific persons you believe are responsible,
  • Any witnesses to the discrimination,
  • How other employees are treated compared to you, and
  • What other actions you've taken (legal or otherwise) to remedy the discrimination.

Once you've completed the questionnaire, you'll need to deliver it via mail or in person to your nearest EEOC office. You cannot fax or email this form, and there is no online process to initiate a complaint.

4. Proceed With Your Complaint.

When the EEOC receives your questionnaire by mail, it will contact you to acknowledge the receipt and inform you of the next steps. If you deliver the form in person, an EEOC representative will inform you of how your complaint will be evaluated.

In either case, the EEOC has 180 days to investigate your discrimination complaint. After the 180 days has passed, the EEOC will either have resolved your case or you will be cleared to file a discrimination suit.

Need More Help?

While you don't need a lawyer to begin the EEOC complaint process, it may still be smart to hire an experienced employment attorney to guide you every step of the way.

An attorney can help you draft your complaint, keep tabs on its progress, and prevent you from making any number of common mistakes that can delay or stymie your case. A lawyer can also help negotiate a settlement, which is often how EEOC workplace discrimination cases are resolved.

Editor's Note, July 19, 2016: This post was first published in July 2014. It has since been updated.

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