The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces anti-discrimination laws to ensure our nation’s workers maintain certain basic rights. First and foremost, every person has the right to work in an environment free of discrimination and harassment. Individuals who experience employment discrimination can file a formal complaint and cannot be penalized for doing so.
What is Job Discrimination?
Discrimination is unfavorable or unequal treatment based on a specific, unjust reason. It can happen anywhere, such as in your neighborhood, school, or workplace. The EEOC is the federal agency tasked with protecting people from discrimination at work, such as age discrimination, race discrimination, sex and gender discrimination, among others.
Beyond these categories, it is also illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion. Additionally, it is illegal to discriminate against a woman who is pregnant.
What are Examples of Workplace Discrimination?
Discrimination laws do more than protect those who already have a job. They protect individuals who are applying for a job and even terminated, which is called wrongful termination.
Job discrimination takes many forms, including harassment or unfair treatment, like an employer denying a qualified candidate a job simply because she might get pregnant and need maternity leave.
Harassment is more obvious and overt, like jokes or slurs about a worker’s race or religion. Sexual harassment at work can be anything from unwanted comments of sexual nature to propositions of sexual favors in return for a promotion or raise.
What are Important Anti-Discrimination Laws?
The EEOC enforces several federal employment discrimination laws:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This makes it illegal to discriminate someone based on race, color, religion, sex, or nation of origin. It also protects against retaliation in the workplace.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: An amendment to Title VII, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or any related condition.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA): Protects people who are 40 years old and older from age-based discrimination and retaliation for taking steps to stop it.
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA): Applies to private businesses and makes it illegal to discriminate against someone with a disability and from retaliation for participating in a discrimination proceeding.
What Should I do if I am Being Discriminated Against at Work?
Despite laws in place to protect workers from harassment, unfair treatment, and retaliation, job discrimination unfortunately persists in the workplace. If you are the victim of unfair treatment at work because of who you are, you can take action to stop the behavior and hold the offender accountable.
If harassment involves inappropriate jokes, comments, or suggestions, begin by asking the person to stop. He or she may not even realize that the comments are offensive. In many cases, that is enough to send a message that you will not tolerate this behavior.
If the harassment continues, file a complaint with your employer. Before you do, familiarize yourself with the company’s stance on discrimination and their policies for reporting it. It may be challenging but take all the emotion out of the situation and focus on the details.
Remember, that if you pursue litigation against your harasser or employer, facts are going to prove your case, not feelings or assumptions. Keep notes on each incident in a journal or in an online document. Record the names of anyone who witnessed the harassment.
How do I File a Complaint with the EEOC?
If your employer perpetrates discrimination or fails to stop it, is time to file a formal complaint with the EEOC. Applicants, employees, and former employers have the right to file a charge of discrimination. You can file a complaint by mail or in person at your nearest EEOC office.
Include the following information in your complaint:
- Contact information for the person being treated unfairly.
- Contact information for the employer named in the complaint.
- Description of the events.
- Dates that the suspected harassment took place.
What Should I Know About EEOC Complaints?
- Most anti-discrimination laws require you to take this step and file a formal complaint with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit against an employer.
- There are strict timeframes for filing complaints with the EEOC, generally ranging from 180 to 300 days. If you suspect discrimination, take immediate action to protect your right to justice.
- The EEOC services are always free and available to individuals, regardless of citizenship or work authorization status.
What Should I Expect After Filing a Charge with the EEOC?
After a charge is filed, the EEOC notifies the employer. This notification includes a unique respondent portal link where the respondent can log in, review the charge, and follow the progress of the investigation.
It should be mentioned that just because a charge has been filed, it does not mean that the employer allowed or engaged in discrimination. It simply means the EEOC has reasonable cause to investigate further.
Some respondents opt to resolve a complaint through voluntary mediation and settlement. The EEOC usually notifies both parties if this is a valid option, but always ask the investigator if you are unsure.
Can I do Mediation?
Mediation is a free, voluntary, and confidential process allowing objective third-parties to discuss the charges and reach a settlement that is satisfactory to both parties. It is a means to resolve complaints quickly and efficiently without the need for litigation. If both parties agree to a settlement, the charges are dismissed.
When mediation is not feasible, the investigator continues looking into the charge. To gain more insight into the situation, they may request the following:
- A statement of position, which is essentially the organization’s version of what happened.
- A response to a request for information, asking for employee personnel files, HR policies, and other relevant documents.
- Contact information for witnesses to conduct interviews about what they saw.
- On-site visits to gather more facts about the allegations.
After the investigation is complete, the EEOC makes a determination on the validity of the charges. If they are unable to find reasonable cause that discrimination occurred, they issue a dismissal. This notifies the charging party that he or she has 90 days to file a claim in federal court.
What is Conciliation?
If the EEOC finds reasonable cause to believe discrimination took place, both parties receive a letter of determination. The letter invites both parties to resolve the charge through conciliation.
Conciliation is an informal and voluntary process where both parties work to reach an appropriate remedy for the charges. Since it involves negotiation, multiple counteroffers are usually presented until a final solution is agreed upon. Like mediation, conciliation is an informal way to resolve charges without litigation.
If none of these avenues are successful, it may be time to file a lawsuit against your employer. Waiting too long to file a complaint or making uninformed decisions during mediation or conciliation can impact your outcome and continue the culture of harassment at your job. It makes sense to seek the counsel of an experienced lawyer who specializes in discrimination and employment law whenever you are dealing with an EEOC complaint.
Philadelphia Discrimination Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Essential Workers
Last year, more than 72,000 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC, and more than half involved retaliation. That shows workers are not encouraged to fight against job harassment and discrimination. In fact, they are often penalized. Our Philadelphia discrimination lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will protect your rights. We are here to guide you on the path to justice. For a free consultation, call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.