Employment Claims – First Step

How to file the EEOC Charge in Georgia
People understandably think they have an automatic right to file a lawsuit in a court of law if they have been the victim of unlawful discrimination, harassment or retaliation at work. However, this is not the case. Before filing an employment lawsuit in court, there is an initial filing requirement with a federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Individuals are required to file a Charge with the EEOC prior to filing a lawsuit. In fact, unless and until the EEOC issues an employee a “Right to Sue” letter, the employee may not file his/her lawsuit in court.
As a result, the first step in the process of pursuing an employment claim against an employer is to file a Charge with the EEOC. Notably, the Charge must be filed within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. If the Charge is not filed within 180 days of the challenged action, it is untimely and can be dismissed. This is an important deadline, so employees must act quickly to preserve their rights under federal law. Failure to file the Charge within 180 days of the challenged action could be fatal to an employee’s employment claim.

The purpose behind this requirement is simple: if everyone who believed they had a valid cause of action for discrimination, harassment or retaliation against their employer went to federal court and filed a lawsuit, the courts would be overrun with employment cases. The EEOC acts as a buffer between employees and the courts. The EEOC’s purpose is to address and resolve valid claims so that the courts are not clogged with employment lawsuits.

Once the Charge is filed, if the employee is willing to submit to mediation the EEOC will contact the employer and ask if it wants to try to resolve the Charge through a voluntary mediation. If the employer and the employee consent, a mediation session will be scheduled at the EEOC’s office in downtown Atlanta. Mediation is a process where a neutral person, the mediator, meets with the parties to hear details about the employee’s claims and the employer’s response. Once the parties have made their presentations to the mediator, the mediator will try to work with the parties to reach a mutually agreeable resolution of the Charge through a financial settlement. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the Charge is then forwarded to the EEOC’s Investigation unit.

In many cases, the employer does not consent to mediation and strongly denies that it did anything wrong or unlawful. In that case, the Charge is forwarded to the EEOC’s Investigation unit. The employer will be asked to provide a written response (Position Statement) to the employee’s Charge explaining in detail the basis for its claim that it did nothing wrong or unlawful. The employer’s written Position Statement is an important document. It often, but not always, contains specific facts and evidence to support the employer’s denials of wrongdoing. By reviewing the employer’s Position Statement, the employee can get a glimpse or snapshot of what the employer would likely offer in defense against the Charge if a lawsuit were filed and pursued in court. This process can take between 2-3 months from the date the Charge was initially filed. Notably, the EEOC will not provide an employee with a copy of the employer’s Position Statement while the Charge is active.

Employees have the right to ask the EEOC to issue a Right to Sue letter when the Charge is filed or sometime thereafter. Although the EEOC may choose to do so, it is not required to issue a Right to Sue letter upon request. Sometimes, the EEOC elects to further investigate the Charge. This usually happens when the EEOC believes there is or may be competent evidence to support a “Cause” finding. If the EEOC elects to investigate the Charge and declines to issue a Right to Sue letter, it usually takes between 9-18 months to finalize its investigation and render a final Determination.

Dozier Law Group LLC regularly represents employees by filing EEOC Charges on their behalf and working with them to resolve the matter, if possible, through settlement negotiations with the employer and EEOC personnel prior to filing a lawsuit in court.

If there is credible independent evidence which supports a claim for discrimination, harassment or retaliation (supporting witnesses, documents, company records, etc.), the employer may want to resolve the matter through mediation at the EEOC rather than incur the expense of defending against a lawsuit in court and exposing itself to an unfavorable jury verdict. Defending lawsuits against valid claims can be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive for employers. However, no matter how valid the claim or strong the supporting evidence is, employers frequently choose to oppose EEOC Charges for various reasons. As a result, there is no guarantee that your Charge can be resolved through the EEOC process, and you may have to file a lawsuit to obtain relief. Lawsuits can take anywhere from 18-30 months if a case gets heard by a jury.