Discrimination Law

What Is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?

It’s frustrating to lose out on a job or coveted promotion. It’s even worse if it’s because of your race, gender, age, or another characteristic not related to your ability to do the job. In the U.S., the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the primary agency that holds employers accountable for workplace discrimination.

This page provides an overview of the EEOC. If your employer has discriminated against you, consult an employment discrimination attorney. An employment lawyer with experience fighting discrimination can assess your case and give you the best legal advice about your unique circumstances, and help you file a complaint with the EEOC.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Role

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that make it illegal to discriminate in employment based on the following protected characteristics:

  • Race
  • National origin
  • Gender
  • Veteran status
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity

The EEOC also investigates allegations of retaliating against someone for filing a discrimination complaint or participating in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

The EEOC has jurisdiction over most employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations, and educational institutions. For complaints alleging age discrimination, it’s 20 or more employees. The agency’s role in an investigation is to make a finding based on a fair assessment of the facts.

The EEOC can investigate discrimination in any employment action. It also takes a proactive approach to preventing employment discrimination through outreach, technical assistance, and education to employers. Some of the most common actions the agency investigates involve the following practices:

  • Application and hiring
  • Recruitment and job advertisements
  • Background checks and preemployment inquiries
  • Job assignments and promotions
  • Pay and benefits
  • Dress codes

Laws Enforced by the EEOC

Some of the most prominent federal laws that the EEOC enforces include the following:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of a pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition stemming from those things.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which makes it illegal to pay women less than men when they do the same work in the same workplace.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which makes it illegal to discriminate against people 40 years old or older.
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability.
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their genetic information.

The EEOC Investigation Process

The EEOC enforces its laws through mediation, investigation, or, in some cases, both. EEOC cases start with a charge of discrimination, which is a signed statement alleging discrimination against an employer or a labor organization. Individuals can file a charge of discrimination. In some cases, the agency can file a charge of discrimination on its own without a complaining worker.

You must file the complaint within 180 calendar days of the day the discrimination took place. The time limit is 300 days if the discrimination is illegal under state or local law. The EEOC will then notify your employer within 10 days.


If the EEOC moves ahead with your complaint, it may ask you and your employer to participate in its mediation program before starting an investigation. An advantage of mediation is that the agency can settle a charge in about three months instead of the 10 months it takes on average for an investigation.

Charge Investigation

The EEOC will investigate the charge if it doesn’t go to mediation or mediation fails. The agency first asks your employer to provide a written answer to the complaint. After the employer answers the charge, you have an opportunity to respond.

How the EEOC proceeds with an investigation depends on the facts of the case and the type of information it needs to gather. Sometimes, the agency will visit the employer to gather documents and hold interviews. In other cases, the employer will do interviews and gather documents off-site.

The EEOC can issue an administrative subpoena to get documents or gain access to employers who won’t comply.

Notice of Right to Sue

You must file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC before you can sue your employer. The exception is wage discrimination based on sex.

A Notice of Right to Sue is a document that gives you the right to file a lawsuit against an employer for employment discrimination. You generally must give the EEOC 180 days to investigate your complaint before it issues the notice. If the will issue you this document if it can’t determine if your employer violated the law.

Settlement or Lawsuit

If the EEOC determines your employer violated the law, it will attempt to settle. If it can’t settle, the EEOC’s legal staff will review the case to decide if it will file a lawsuit. If the agency doesn’t file a lawsuit, it will issue you a Notice of Right to Sue.

Commissioner Charges and Directed Investigations

The EEOC can also initiate investigations on its own for certain types of cases using a commissioner charge initiated by an EEOC commissioner. This type of investigation is rare. A directed investigation is another type of EEOC-initiated investigation.

These investigations generally come about because an EEOC field office learns about possible discrimination, a field office discovers new allegations of discrimination while investigating an existing charge, or an EEOC commissioner learns about possible discrimination and asks a field office to investigate.

Enforcement of State and Local Discrimination Laws

A state or local agency can also enforce relevant anti-discrimination laws under their jurisdiction.

In situations where federal, state, or local laws apply, employees can file a charge with either the EEOC or the state agency.

Contact an Experienced Employment Law Attorney

Employment discrimination can take many forms. If your employer has discriminated against you, contact an employment discrimination attorney in a city near you. They can explain the laws to you, help you file a complaint with the EEOC, and represent you and protect your rights during an investigation.

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