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Filing a discrimination complaint against a non-government employer

If you work for a private-sector (non-government) employer, you must file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a discrimination lawsuit in court.

Here are some things to consider if you’re filing a discrimination complaint against an employer in the private-sector:

What is the deadline for filing a discrimination complaint?

You should file your charge with the EEOC office for the location where you performed work for your employer.  The deadline for filing a discrimination complaint with the EEOC depends on the location and the type of discrimination:

Age discrimination claims

  • State law prohibits discrimination: If you worked in a state that has a law prohibiting age discrimination, file your EEOC charge within 300 days of the date of discrimination
  • Local law prohibits discrimination: If you worked in a city or county that has a local law that prohibits age discrimination, file within 180 days of the date of discrimination
  • No state or local law prohibits discrimination: If you worked in a location where there was no state or local law prohibiting age discrimination in the location where you worked, file within 180 days of the date of discrimination

Non-age discrimination claims:

  • State or local law prohibits discrimination: If you worked in a location where a state or local law prohibits the kind of discrimination you were subjected to, file within 300 days of the date of discrimination
  • No state or local law prohibits discrimination: If you worked in a location where there was no state or local law prohibiting the kind of discrimination you were subjected to, file within 180 days of the date of discrimination

What should I include in my complaint?

The information you should include will depend on the facts of your case and the employer.  At a minimum, you should include the following information:

  • Your name, address, phone number, and email address
  • Your employer’s name, address, and phone number
  • The location where you worked for your employer
  • A list of each incident of discrimination or retaliation

What happens after I file a discrimination complaint?

These are the steps in the EEOC’s process:

Notification to employer

Within 10 days of receiving your complaint, the EEOC will inform the employer about your complaint.

Voluntary mediation

The EEOC offers mediation, which is a meeting where you and your employer will try to resolve your complaint through settlement.  However, mediation is voluntary; this means it will only occur if all parties agree.  If you and your employer agree to mediation, a mediator will be assigned to the case.  The mediator is a neutral party; he or she is not on your side and not on the employer’s side. The mediator’s job is to help you and your employer communicate and resolve the dispute.

Investigation

If you do not settle your case, the EEOC has 180 days to investigate your claims.  The employer may submit a written statement to the EEOC to respond to your complaint.  If the employer submits a statement, the EEOC will contact you and give you a chance to respond.  An EEOC investigator may contact you to ask for additional information and documents.

Request for Notice of Right to Sue

If the EEOC does not complete its investigation within 180 days of receiving your charge, and you are ready to file a lawsuit, you may request a Notice of Right to Sue.  The EEOC will stop investigating your complaint and send you a Dismissal and Notice of Rights.  Dismissal and Notice of Rights will confirm that the EEOC is dismissing your case, provide the reason for dismissal, and explain your right to file a lawsuit in court within 90 days of receipt.

Action after investigation

If you do not request a Notice of Right to Sue, the EEOC will complete its investigation and will do one of the following:

1. Send you a Dismissal and Notice of Rights

The EEOC will send you a Dismissal and Notice of Rights if the EEOC finds that:

  • Your charge fails to state a claim under the laws EEOC enforces.
  • The employer is not covered under the laws EEOC enforces.
  • You did not file your charge on time.
  • The EEOC cannot determine whether your employer violated the law.
  • The EEOC adopted the findings of a state or local administrative agency that also processed your claim.

Once you receive the Dismissal and Notice of Rights, you may file a lawsuit in federal district court within 90 days.

2. Attempt to settle your case

If the EEOC believes your employer discriminated against you, it will try to settle the case, on your behalf.  If attempts to settle are unsuccessful, the EEOC will decide whether it will file a lawsuit on your behalf.  If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit, it will issue you a Dismissal and Notice of Rights.  You may file your own lawsuit within 90 days of receiving the Dismissal.

Filing a discrimination lawsuit in federal court

Unless you settle or the EEOC decides to file a lawsuit on your behalf, you may file your own lawsuit against your employer in federal district court.  Here are the deadlines for filing:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act, Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act: If you allege discrimination on the basis of color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or retaliation, you may file a lawsuit within 90 days of receiving a Dismissal and Notice of Rights from the EEOC.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): If you alleged age discrimination under the ADEA, you can file a lawsuit within 60 days of filing your charge. You don’t have to wait for EEOC to issue a Dismissal and Notice of Rights or to complete its investigation.  However, if the EEOC issues you a Dismissal and Notice of Rights before you file a lawsuit, you must file a lawsuit within 90 days of receipt of the Dismissal.
  • Equal Pay Act (EPA): If your charge complains that your employer violated the Equal Pay Act (wage discrimination based on sex), you do not have to wait 180 days for the EEOC to investigate or until you receive a Dismissal and Notice of Rights. You may file a lawsuit within two years from the date of your most recent discriminatory paycheck.

Do I need a lawyer to file a discrimination complaint?

You aren’t required to have an attorney to file a complaint with the EEOC. However, an experienced employment attorney can help you navigate the EEOC’s process. A lawyer will ensure that you meet filing deadlines and that you include all necessary information in your complaint. Your attorney can also advise you about participating in mediation, and whether you should file a lawsuit.

If you believe your employer discriminated against you, Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., can help. Our attorneys represent private-sector (non-government) employees in EEOC complaints and in discrimination lawsuits in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.

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