I’ve done a number of initial consultations with potential clients seeking an assessment of whether or not they have a claim for discrimination against their current or former employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If it is determined that enough initial evidence does exist to support a claim for discrimination, many do not understand the process required to file such a charge. This process involves filing an initial charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and obtaining a right to sue letter (RTS) from the EEOC before a lawsuit can commence. This article explains the process of filing a charge of discrimination under Title VII and what to expect during this process.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., is the primary federal law that prohibits employment discrimination. Title VII protects applicants and employees against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It does not cover age discrimination or disability discrimination, which are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In the simplest terms, Title VII prohibits employers from making employment related decisions where the decision is motivated by a person’s protected trait (those listed in the paragraph above). Thus, for example, an employer may be sued for favoring a white employee over a black employee because of race or color. Title VII is also the federal statute which makes sexual harassment unlawful.
Proving a Claim Under Title VII
The courts recognize two types of claims under Title VII. Disparate treatment and disparate impact claims:
Exhausting Administrative Remedies
To file a court claim you must first “exhaust your administrative remedies”. Stated more simply, you are required to file a claim with the EEOC before you may sue your employer in court. You should generally file your claim at the EEOC office that is closest to you.
There are strict time frames in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. Title VII charges must be filed with EEOC within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. However, in states or localities where there is an antidiscrimination law and an agency authorized to grant or seek relief, a charge must be presented to that state or local agency.
Furthermore, in such jurisdictions, you may file charges with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory act, or 30 days after receiving notice that the state or local agency has terminated its processing of the charge, whichever is earlier. It is best to contact EEOC promptly when discrimination is suspected. When charges or complaints are filed beyond these time frames, you may not be able to obtain any remedy.
Right to Sue Letter
Title VII claims may not be brought in federal or state court until they have been filed with the EEOC, and the EEOC has issued a right to sue letter. The EEOC will issue a right to sue letter for various reasons including:
Getting a right to sue letter does not mean that the EEOC has determined that you have a case against your employer. Rather, it is simply a determination that you may pursue your claim in an appropriate court. In addition, the EEOC process tends to be very slow and many plaintiffs’ attorneys will elect to request a right to sue letter from the EEOC so that the matter can be pursued in court as soon as possible.
Ryan A. Hintzen
The Hintzen Law Firm, PLLC