Chronology of an EEOC Charge

If an employer discriminates against an employee while making hiring and firing decisions, the employee may choose to file a charge with an independent federal agency called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC handles all types of discrimination matters, including those relating to hiring and firing decisions. The following provides a chronology of how the EEOC handles complaints that it receives.

Filing the Charge

Any individual who believes that he or she has been discriminated against in the course of a hiring or firing decision may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

  • Note: An individual who brings a charge is called the "charging party." The "charging party" may also be an agency or other entity acting on behalf of an individual in order to protect the individual's identity. Throughout this document, the charging party is referred to solely as the "individual."

A charge may be filed either by mail or in person at the EEOC office nearest to where the individual is located. By calling 1-800-669-4000 or 1-800-669-6820 (TTD), an individual can be automatically put in touch with the local EEOC office.

In order to file a charge, individuals must provide their name, address and telephone number. The name, address and telephone number of the employer who is accused of discriminatory practices must also be included. If known, the charge must also contain information on the number of employees retained by the employer.

The charge must contain a short description of the alleged violation(s) or discriminatory act(s), including the date(s) of the violation(s).

All laws that the EEOC enforces, with the exception of the federal Equal Pay Act, require that an individual first file an EEOC charge before a private lawsuit is filed in court.

In most cases, a charge must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation.

  • Note: If the charge is also covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law, the 180-day period is extended to 300 days. For Age Discrimination in Employment Act charges, only state (and not local) laws will extend the deadline to 300 days.

Employer Notification

Once the charge is filed, the EEOC will notify the employer that a charge has been filed against it.


A charge may be assigned a priority investigation if the initial review appears to support a violation of the law. If the evidence is not as strong, a follow-up investigation may be conducted in order to determine whether it is likely that a violation occurred.

The EEOC has the power to perform "discovery" during its investigation. This power includes the right to make written requests for information, interview people, review documents and visit the location where the alleged discrimination took place, if necessary.

Once the investigation is complete, the EEOC will discuss the evidence with both the individual and the employer.

Resolution of the Charge

The EEOC can attempt to initiate a settlement of the charge at any time during its investigation if both the individual and the employer are interested in doing so.

If both the individual and the employer express an interest, the charge may be selected for the EEOC's mediation program. Charges placed in the mediation program receive a limited investigation. If the mediation is not successful, the charge will be investigated further.

The EEOC has the power to dismiss a charge at any point if, in the EEOC's best judgment, further investigation will not establish a violation of the law.

  • Note: A charge can even be dismissed at the time it is filed if an initial detailed interview does not produce evidence that would support the claim.

When a charge is dismissed, the individual must be given notice in what is known as a "right to sue" letter. The individual has 90 days in which to commence a private lawsuit once the charge is dismissed.

If evidence uncovered in the investigatory stage reveals that discrimination has occurred, the individual and the employer will be informed by a "letter of determination" which sets forth the findings of the EEOC.

Once the letter of determination has been sent, the EEOC will attempt to develop a remedy for the discrimination with the employer. This is a process called "conciliation."

If the case is successfully conciliated or if a case has been earlier settled or mediated, neither the EEOC nor the individual may take the employer to court unless the employer fails to honor its part of the resolution bargain.

If the EEOC is unable to conciliate the case with the employer, the EEOC must then decide whether to bring suit against the employer on behalf of the individual in federal court.

If the EEOC decides not to sue it must provide the individual with notice of that decision. The notice provides the individual 90 days within which to commence a personal lawsuit. This notice is called a "right to sue" letter.

Filing a Personal Lawsuit

The time limitations for filing a personal lawsuit vary depending upon the type of discriminatory action that is alleged.

  • Example: Under Title VII (a federal law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion and national origin), an individual can request a notice of a "right to sue" from the EEOC 180 days after the charge is first filed and can then bring suit within 90 days after receiving the notice. However, if there is a state or local anti-discrimination law and a state or local agency is authorized to grant relief under that law, the charge must be presented to that agency first. In those situations, a charge may thereafter be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory act or within 30 days of receiving notice that the state or local agency is terminating its processing of the charge, whichever is earlier.

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Preparing to Meet With Your Attorney

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