How to File a Workplace Discrimination Case Effectively

Have you experienced workplace discrimination and are unsure how to seek justice? This detailed guide breaks down how to file a workplace discrimination case, equipping you with key insights into evidence gathering, important EEOC deadlines, and the procedural steps to...

Have you experienced workplace discrimination and are unsure how to seek justice? This detailed guide breaks down how to file a workplace discrimination case, equipping you with key insights into evidence gathering, important EEOC deadlines, and the procedural steps to take your claim forward. Get ready to understand your legal rights and the systematic approach needed to address discrimination within the workplace.

Key Takeaways

  • Workplace discrimination includes unfavorable treatment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, age, and genetic information, with legal action being a viable route for those subjected to such discrimination based on protected characteristics.
  • Filing a workplace discrimination case involves gathering evidence, seeking legal advice, and a strict time limit of 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC, which can be done online, by mail, telephone, or in person.
  • Beyond the EEOC, State Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) and local laws also offer avenues for filing discrimination complaints, with federal government employees following a similar but distinct process for complaints against federal agencies.

Understanding Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination is a beast with many faces. An employee or job applicant may be subject to unfavorable treatment based on their:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • national origin
  • disability
  • age
  • genetic information

This type of unlawful discrimination is illegal and can lead to legal action. The catch, however, is that for the unfair treatment to qualify as a valid claim, it must be based on these protected characteristics, the denial of legally mandated accommodations, or retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint.

In the grand scheme of things, these laws are designed to ensure that all employees are treated the same, regardless of their identity, and that our workplaces are a fair reflection of our diverse society. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency tasked with enforcing these anti-discrimination laws and ensuring that all employees receive fair treatment.

Protected Characteristics

Protected characteristics are attributes of an individual that cannot be the basis for discrimination under federal laws. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employment discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • sex
  • national origin

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. The laws surrounding employment discrimination can be complex.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act offers protections to individuals who are 40 years of age or older from age-based employment discrimination. Other laws, including:

  • the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • the Civil Rights Act
  • the Equal Pay Act
  • the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

further protect employees from unfair treatment related to disability, race, gender, pregnancy, and other characteristics. These laws are designed to ensure that everyone, regardless of their personal characteristics, is given a fair shot at success in the workplace.

Types of Discrimination

Discrimination is not a one-size-fits-all issue. It can take various forms, each with its own unique set of challenges. Direct discrimination, for instance, entails unfair treatment of an employee based on their characteristics. This could be refusing sexual advances resulting in demotion or firing, or denying training and promotion based on race.

On the other hand, indirect discrimination refers to policies or practices that appear neutral but disproportionately impact individuals with certain characteristics, like gender or race. Harassment, which can involve unwelcome conduct that creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile, or offensive work environment, and victimization, which occurs when an employee is treated unfairly for making a complaint about discrimination, are other types of discrimination.

Understanding these various forms of discrimination is crucial in identifying and addressing workplace discrimination effectively.

Preparing to File a Discrimination Case

Once you’ve identified that you’re facing discrimination at the workplace, the next step is to prepare to file your case. It is crucial to assess if the employer had a discriminatory motive manifested in adverse actions based on age, gender, race, religion, or other protected characteristics before filing a workplace discrimination case.

Identifying instances of unequal treatment or policies that are applied differently to individuals of various protected classes is an essential step in preparing for a discrimination case. This process might seem daunting, but remember, you’re not alone. There are resources and people ready to help you navigate this challenging landscape.

Gathering Evidence

When preparing your case, gathering evidence is a critical step. One method of collecting evidence is keeping a personal journal that details discrimination incidents with specificity, noting dates, times, and descriptions of the discriminatory behavior.

Also, don’t forget to collect relevant documents such as termination notices, performance evaluations, emails and other internal communications. These can reveal direct discriminatory remarks or suggest a pattern of exclusion from work-related activities, thereby serving as potent evidence.

It’s also crucial to gather contact information for witnesses who are knowledgeable about the discriminatory actions to corroborate the claim. While gathering evidence, always remember to consult with an attorney prior to engaging with potential witnesses to help navigate the sensitive aspects of discrimination cases.

Seeking Legal Advice

Seeking legal advice is a necessary step in the preparation to file a workplace discrimination case, ensuring that one is aware of the legal options and potential outcomes. An employment discrimination attorney is your ally in this fight, providing guidance on the types of evidence needed to support a discrimination claim.

While not mandatory, it can be advantageous to have legal representation during EEOC proceedings. This additional layer of support can be invaluable, providing guidance throughout the process and ensuring your best interests are represented.

Filing a Complaint with the EEOC

So, you’ve identified discrimination, collected evidence, and sought legal advice. Now it’s time to file your complaint. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that protect against workplace discrimination, making it essential to file a charge with the EEOC as the first step in seeking redress.

A charge of discrimination may be filed with the EEOC through various methods:

  • Online
  • In person
  • By mail
  • By telephone

The EEOC imposes a strict time limit of 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination to file a charge of discrimination. It’s important to act promptly and adhere to these deadlines to ensure your complaint is processed.

Online Filing

Filing a complaint online is a convenient option provided by the EEOC. The EEOC Public Portal is designed to guide individuals through the process of filing a complaint involving employment discrimination. The portal includes a series of questions to establish whether EEOC is the appropriate agency to handle the complaint.

But what if you require special assistance such as sign language or foreign language interpretation? Not to worry! Individuals requiring special assistance can request it in advance when filing a complaint through the EEOC Public Portal. It’s clear that the EEOC is dedicated to making the complaint process as accessible as possible.

In-Person Filing

In-person filing is another option available to you. To file a complaint in person, individuals can schedule an appointment at an EEOC office by either using the EEOC Public Portal or walking in for a possible walk-in appointment.

When attending an in-person appointment with EEOC staff, individuals should bring any relevant documentation, such as termination notices or performance evaluations, to support their discrimination complaint. This direct approach ensures your concerns are heard and your evidence is properly submitted.

Filing by Mail or Telephone

If online or in-person options aren’t suitable for you, don’t worry. Initial information for filing a workplace discrimination complaint can be given over the phone, although the actual charge cannot be filed in this manner. You can also submit an online inquiry for further assistance.

Filing a complaint by mail is another available option. When filing a complaint by mail, you need to include the following information:

  • Your personal contact information
  • Employer details
  • A description of the discriminatory actions
  • The reason for believing discrimination occurred
  • Your signature

This traditional method ensures that everyone, regardless of technological access, can file a discrimination complaint.

State and Local Agency Options

In addition to federal agencies like the EEOC, state and local governments have their own anti-discrimination laws and Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) where individuals can file discrimination complaints. Navigating these various avenues can be complex, but it’s necessary to ensure your complaint is heard by the right federal agency. An employment agency can also be a valuable resource in this process.

When discrimination complaints fall under both state and federal jurisdiction, local FEPAs may forward these complaints to the EEOC. It’s important to understand that while the EEOC is a powerful resource, it’s not the only agency out there dedicated to fighting employment discrimination.

State Fair Employment Practice Agencies

Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) are agencies responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws at the state or local level. These agencies play a crucial role in helping individuals address incidents of discrimination at the workplace.

Complaints must be filed with State Fair Employment Practice Agencies within a specific timeframe, often within 180 days from the occurrence of the alleged discriminatory act. These agencies work in tandem with the EEOC, ensuring compliance with both state and federal regulations. They serve as a vital resource for individuals navigating the complex landscape of employment discrimination.

Local Anti-Discrimination Laws

Local anti-discrimination laws exist to address instances of unfair treatment in the workplace that are specific to certain areas. These laws, sometimes being only a local law, aim to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their location, have access to protections against employment discrimination.

Local agencies are tasked with the enforcement of these anti-discrimination laws, operating independently from the EEOC. As the local agency enforces these laws, the procedures for filing with them can differ from those of the EEOC, affecting aspects such as complaint filing deadlines, required documentation, and available relief.

These local laws and agencies play an essential role in the fight against workplace discrimination, ensuring that employees employed are treated fairly and with respect.

Federal Government Employees and Applicants

For federal government employees and applicants, the process of filing a discrimination complaint is similar to that of other workers. Federal employees and applicants have protections against workplace discrimination covering various forms of discrimination, though the complaint process significantly differs compared to that of private or non-federal public employers.

These unique processes are designed to ensure that all employees, irrespective of their federal status, have access to the resources necessary to fight against workplace discrimination.

Filing Procedures – Act Quickly

The first step for federal government employees and applicants is to contact an EEO Counselor within 45 calendar days of the alleged discriminatory action. This time limit demonstrates the importance of acting promptly when you believe you have experienced discrimination.

Federal employees and applicants also have the option to submit a pre-complaint inquiry or file a complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). These procedures ensure that federal employees have a clear and timely process to address instances of workplace discrimination.

Federal Agency Responsibilities

Federal agencies have unique responsibilities when it comes to preventing and addressing workplace discrimination. They must not discriminate in their employment practices and are required to offer reasonable accommodation for known disabilities, except when it would cause undue hardship.

The Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board outline prohibited personnel practices including discrimination based on various protected characteristics and anti-retaliation measures. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which enforces federal civil rights laws, reviews received complaints to determine if intervention is warranted, and coordinates civil rights law enforcement across the federal government.

These responsibilities ensure that federal agencies are held to the same standards of non-discrimination as all other employers.

After Filing a Complaint: What to Expect

Once you’ve filed your discrimination complaint, you might be wondering, “What comes next?” After filing a workplace discrimination complaint, the EEOC assigns a charge number to the complaint for tracking and notifies the employer about the charge.

If the EEOC finds that the law may have been violated, they attempt to mediate and reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a resolution is not met, the case can be escalated to their legal staff or the U.S. Department of Justice. This process ensures that every complaint is thoroughly reviewed and appropriately addressed.

EEOC Investigation

During the EEOC’s investigation, they may request additional information from the employer, conduct interviews, and perform on-site visits as part of their thorough examination process.

Post-investigation, if reasonable cause is found, conciliation is offered as the last chance for informal resolution; otherwise, a ‘Dismissal and Notice of Rights’ is provided, allowing the complainant 90 days to independently file a lawsuit. This comprehensive investigation process ensures that every facet of the complaint is examined and appropriately addressed.

Mediation and Settlement

The EEOC mediation program is a voluntary, free, and confidential process that offers a quick resolution to disputes before an investigation commences. Mediation offered by the EEOC occurs before the investigation and provides an opportunity for the complainant and employer to resolve the complaint amicably with the help of a mediator.

Success in mediation results in the closure of the EEOC charge, providing a quick and efficient resolution to the dispute. If mediation fails, settlement of discrimination charges can occur at any point during the investigation and is aimed at reaching an agreement satisfying all parties without an admission of liability.

Legal Action and Notice-of-Right-to-Sue

If the EEOC’s investigation finds evidence of discrimination, they may attempt resolving the issue; if a resolution is not met, the EEOC can either file a lawsuit on behalf of the complainant or issue a ‘Notice-of-Right-to-Sue’ which allows the complainant to file a lawsuit independently. Should the EEOC investigation conclude with no reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred, it will issue a Dismissal and Notice of Rights, empowering the Charging Party to file a lawsuit within 90 days.

These steps ensure that every avenue for redress is explored, providing complainants with the best possible outcome.


It’s easy to feel lost or overwhelmed in the maze of workplace discrimination. This guide has aimed to provide you with the tools necessary to navigate this complex landscape, from understanding what constitutes discrimination to the steps involved in filing a complaint and what to expect after filing. Remember, you don’t have to navigate this journey alone; legal advisors, the EEOC, and local agencies are there to guide you every step of the way. Discrimination has no place in the workplace, and with these tools, you’re ready to stand up against it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to document discrimination at work?

When documenting discrimination at work, make sure to include the time, date, location, people involved, witnesses, and a detailed account of the events. This will help provide a clear and comprehensive record of the discrimination.

What constitutes workplace discrimination?

Workplace discrimination includes treating an employee unfavorably due to their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information, as well as denying legally mandated accommodations or retaliating against someone for filing a discrimination complaint.

What is the first step to filing a discrimination complaint?

The first step to filing a discrimination complaint is assessing if the employer’s actions were based on protected characteristics such as age, gender, race, or religion. It’s important to determine if there was a discriminatory motive before proceeding with the complaint.

How can I file a complaint with the EEOC?

You can file a complaint with the EEOC online, in person, by mail, or by telephone, with a strict time limit of 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination.

Can I file a discrimination complaint with a state or local agency?

Yes, you can file a discrimination complaint with some state or local agencies if they exist in your area, as they have their own anti-discrimination laws and Fair Employment Practices Agencies where individuals can file complaints.


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