The Process for Filing a Discrimination Lawsuit
(Note: Federal employees and applicants have a different complaint process.)
If you plan to file a lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or retaliation, under federal law, you first have to file a charge with one of the EEOC field offices (unless you plan to bring your lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, which allows you to go directly to court without filing a charge).
Washington State law has no similar requirement, but there are some advantages to filing under federal laws.
The EEOC will review your case and decide whether to initiate an investigation. If it finds that there have been substantial discrimination violations, it may file a lawsuit. More frequently, it will choose not to file a lawsuit, and will dismiss the charge.
If the EEOC dismisses your charge, it will give you what is called a “Notice-of-Right-to-Sue” at the time the charge is dismissed, usually, after completion of an investigation. However, the EEOC may dismiss for other reasons, including failure to cooperate in an investigation.
The “Notice-of-Right-to-Sue” gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. Once you receive a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days to preserve your federal claims. The EEOC cannot extend this deadline except when the District Director gives the parties a written notice of intent to reconsider before the deadline for filing a lawsuit. If you don’t file in time, you may be prevented from going forward with your federal claims, but you probably still have claims you could bring under state law.
Exceptions When Filing a Lawsuit
If you plan to file an age discrimination lawsuit, you won’t need a Notice of Right-to-Sue to file in court. You can file any time after 60 days have passed from the day you filed your charge (but no later than 90 days after you receive notice that our investigation is concluded). If you plan to file a lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, you don’t have to file a charge or obtain a Notice of Right-to-Sue before filing. Rather, you can go directly to court, provided you file your suit within two years from the day the discrimination took place (3 years if the discrimination was willful).
Keep in mind, though, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also makes it illegal to discriminate based on sex in the payment of wages and benefits. If you have an Equal Pay Act claim, there may be advantages to also filing under Title VII. In order to pursue a Title VII claim in court, you must have filed a charge with EEOC and received a Notice of Right-to-Sue.
EEOC and Filing a Lawsuit
EEOC files employment discrimination lawsuits in select cases. When deciding whether to file a lawsuit, the EEOC considers several factors, including the seriousness of the violation, the type of legal issues in the case, and the wider impact the lawsuit could have on our efforts to combat workplace discrimination. Because of limited resources, EEOC cannot file a lawsuit in every case where discrimination has been found.
How I Can Help
I represent clients in filing the required charge notice, and keep clients informed regarding any EEOC updates and the resolution of their charge. In most cases the EEOC will not initiate a lawsuit, in which case I may proceed to file a lawsuit on a client’s behalf in court.
While you can start your case with EEOC without a lawyer, the things you say and write to EEOC will be recorded and if you make mistakes the employer will use them against you in any later litigation, so it is probably better to start with a call to a lawyer.