It is generally common knowledge that when one runs up against issues of employment discrimination, one should consult the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to see if they may be able to make a difference in your case or even handle it completely. Most people do investigate this possibility, but very often they remain confused about the role of the EEOC in their case. It can make a significant difference in your case if you are able to understand and work with the agency.
Facts & Figures
The EEOC handles nearly 100,000 discrimination claims in total every year. As such, its time and resources are limited, though it tries to prioritize pressing issues, especially those that may later result in a Supreme Court brief. There are exceptions, but generally if you believe you have a discrimination claim, you must first attempt to resolve it via the EEOC or state authorities (such as South Carolina’s Human Affairs Commission). This step, referred to as an administrative prerequisite, is required because without it, state courts would do very little except hear discrimination claims. There are simply not enough judges available to allow every claim a hearing in court. Thus, the EEOC picks up some of the proverbial load.
The average case takes between six months and one year to be processed, but the agency’s processing is not filing your case; rather, it is gathering information and assessing the possibility of mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution, which is the way the EEOC facilitates solutions in most discrimination cases. The agency takes only a small fraction of its cases to trial under its own aegis—usually between 100 and 250 per year. But just because it declines to take up your case does not mean that it would lose at trial.
The Right To Sue
During the time the EEOC is investigating and processing your case, they are generally trying to work out a method of dispute resolution that can be carried out without involving state courts. If none can be arrived at, you have recourse. Generally, after 180 days have passed, you are permitted to contact the agency and request that they send you what is referred to as a Notice of Right to Sue. This Notice is essentially proof that you have attempted to have your concerns addressed via administrative prerequisite and found it to be unsuccessful. With this Notice, you are free to bring suit in the relevant court (usually state circuit court, though there are exceptions based on the terms of the alleged discrimination).
In preparing for suit, it is also good to be aware that you are permitted to ask the EEOC for a copy of the investigatory file. This is because very often, the employer will submit documents to the EEOC that they might conceivably attempt to hide during discovery. While the agency does not have to provide the file, they often do, and asking for it is generally good policy. Having the file means you are more likely to have all the relevant information that you are entitled to have as your suit goes forward.
Ask An Experienced Attorney
Employment discrimination is essentially the only issue the EEOC handles. Because the volume of cases is so high, however, they cannot always help those who have been discriminated against. If you believe you have a case and have your Notice of Right to Sue or need help in obtaining it, contacting a knowledgeable employment discrimination lawyer can be a good idea. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston firm can help. Call us today.