To preserve your right to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit under Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, you must file a timely complaint, known as a “charge”, with the EEOC (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). You can download a PDF questionnaire form (form fillable) which, when properly completed, will serve as an EEOC complaint here (alternate download link here). Before filling out and filing this form, please read the rest of this article for tips on properly completing the form and submitting it to the correct EEOC office in a timely manner.
EEOC Complaint — Have You Spoken With an Attorney?
While technically you do not need a lawyer to file an EEOC complaint, for most people it is in their best interests to at least speak with (if not hire) an experienced employment discrimination lawyer prior to filling out an EEOC complaint and filing it on their own. Having a lawyer handle your workplace discrimination claim from beginning to end is far preferable to having one come in after the EEOC charge has been filed (and the time for amending/correcting it has lapsed).
Of course, you may not be able to find a lawyer wiling to take your case. If that happens, and you haven’t been dissuaded from pursuing your case, filing your own EEOC complaint is your only option. If the EEOC finds that your claim is supported by probable cause, you will find it much easier to find a lawyer.
EEOC Complaint — Turning the Questionnaire into a Charge
To ensure that the EEOC treats the questionnaire form linked to at the beginning of this article as a formal charge of discrimination, you need to do two things: (1) make sure you check Box 2 at the bottom of the last page of the form and (2) make sure that you’ve filled out enough of the form so that it contains the following limited information:
- Your name, address, and telephone number;
- The name, address and telephone number of the employer (or employment agency or union) you want to file your charge against;
- The number of employees you employer has at all locations — there are boxes with ranges of numbers on the form (remember that your employer must have at least 15 employees for Title VII, PDA, and ADA claims and at least 20 employees for ADEA claims);
- A short description of the events you believe were discriminatory (for example, you were fired, demoted, harassed);
- When the events took place;
- Why you believe you were discriminated against (for example, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information); and
- Your signature.
If you need more room to answer a question than the complaint form allows (you often will for the “discriminatory conduct” questions), feel free to answer on a separate sheet and be sure to reference that sheet on the complaint form. When you base your complaint on being treated differently from another employee outside your protected class, make sure that the employee is similarly situated to you (has similar job duties and responsibilities). Comparing yourself to a person with different work duties (such as a supervisor) will usually not be sufficient to prove discrimination.
If you fail to check “Box 2″ or provide the above-listed information on the complaint form, the EEOC will likely not file the form as a formal charge, and you risk your statute of limitations running.
EEOC Complaint — Cover All of Your Bases
If you are a member of multiple protected classes (say you’re a black female Muslim with a disability) and you’re not sure which trait your employer held against you, include them all in your EEOC complaint (there are check boxes for this in Question 4). Only the specific types of discrimination you allege in this form can form the basis of a later workplace discrimination lawsuit. Don’t forget to check off “retaliation”, if that is part of your claim.
As long as you are still within the statute of limitations for filing an EEOC complaint, you can file a new complaint (or amend the old one) to add any charges you may have forgotten. If your employer retaliates against you only after you filed an EEOC complaint, don’t forget to file a new EEOC complaint regarding the retaliation. You should first notify the EEOC investigator who is handling the claim which resulted in the retaliation.
EEOC Complaint — Where to File It
After you have filled out the EEOC complaint form, you need to file it with either your nearest EEOC office (check the blue pages of your phone book) or at any of the 53 EEOC field offices. You cannot file your complaint online. You can file it either in person at the EEOC office or by mail (use certified return receipt to be extra safe). Remember to keep a copy of your EEOC complaint for your own records.
EEOC Complaint — What Happens After I File It?
After you file your EEOC complaint, the EEOC will contact you (usually by phone) with any additional questions it has about your claim. Be sure to promptly respond to any questions to avoid having your complaint dismissed.
Know that your employer will be notified by the EEOC that you have filed a complaint. The EEOC will tell your employer your name and the basis for your claim. In fact, it is required by law to provide the employer with your charge form within 10 days of it being filed. Otherwise, how could the EEOC investigate your complaint? The EEOC may contact you several times over the course of its investigation, as new information is received from your employer.
The EEOC has at least 180 days to review your complaint before you can ask them to stop (if you so choose) and issue a Notice of Right to Sue. If the EEOC finishes its investigation and finds that your claim is not supported by probable cause, it will send you notice of its determination along with a Notice of Right to Sue (you don’t need the EEOC to find in your favor to file a lawsuit against the employer).
If the EEOC finds that there is probable cause for the complaint, it will attempt to resolve the issue between you and your employer, usually through mediation. If you have not obtained a lawyer prior to this occurring, you should definitely consider trying to retain one before mediation.
If mediation fails, the EEOC will decide whether it wants to file a lawsuit against your employer on your behalf. If it chooses not to, as often happens, you should retain your own lawyer immediately to sue the employer (most workplace discrimination lawyers will be eager to represent a client who has received a finding of cause from the EEOC). You will have very little time after the EEOC makes its determination in which to sue, so act quickly.
EEOC Complaint — When It Isn’t Necessary
If your state has its own employment discrimination laws which mirror those that protect you under federal law, and a state law agency similar to the EEOC which investigates discrimination claims made under state law, you may only need to file your complaint with the state agency to preserve your federal claims as well. As long as the agency is considered a Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA) by the EEOC and it has a work-share agreement with the EEOC, filing a charge with one agency will result in the charge being automatically filed with the other. Contact your local EEOC office to determine if there is a FEPA near you. If you choose to file with a FEPA, use the FEPA’s complaint form (it will usually be on its website, if it has one) instead of the form linked to at the beginning of this article. Whichever agency you file the claim with will be responsible for the investigation of the claim.
To be especially cautious when filing an EEOC charge in a state with a FEPA, you should include a brief cover letter with your complaint asking that the charge be “dual filed” with the other agency.