Preliminary investigation: The EEOC

We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for a hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next – and to write in the books of law. – Lyndon Baines Johnson, First address to Congress as President, November 1963.

Less than a year after making that majestic speech, LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, giving birth to, among other entities, the invaluable Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If you feel you’re looking at a workplace lawsuit, go immediately to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission web site. Not only will this web site give you complete information about the types of discrimination you might have encountered in your work, it will give you the following information that’s so crucial I’m bolding it:

All laws enforced by EEOC, except the Equal Pay Act, require filing a charge with EEOC before a private lawsuit may be filed in court. There are strict time limits within which charges must be filed:

A charge must be filed with EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation, in order to protect the charging party’s rights.

So before you file a lawsuit against your employer, you must file a complaint with the EEOC no later than 180 days after the violation. That is approximately six months.

Get on the EEOC web site and spend some time. Click on every link that sounds relevant to your situation and read the information thoroughly. The laws themselves, as written by our government legislators, are not as clear as they might be. You’re surprised? They’re written by lawyers for lawyers. Don’t get discouraged. The EEOC instructions and forms are very clear: they’re meant for us non-lawyers.

Now get the address of your local EEOC branch and pay them a visit. Explain your situation. You will probably collect a form to fill out, with a set of instructions. (Yes, sure you can print them out from the website but I’m looking out for your health here; a trip to the EEOC office is good for you, gets you moving, burns calories, builds muscle).

When you get home, use the web site again to determine the violation(s) committed against you, and then use your Time Line to pull out your specifics and dates. Write a draft of the EEOC complaint. Keep it simple and factual.

Our current Supreme Court has been really bitchy in interpreting time periods following violations against individuals, so as soon as you suspect your employment rights might have been violated, count forward 180 days from the date you suffered discrimination on your job, and put it into your calendar, along with a warning two weeks before the deadline. In big letters: MUST FILE WITH EEOC TODAY. And MUST FILE WITH EEOC IN TWO WEEKS.

Put the draft EEOC complaint paperwork into your case binder. If you haven’t found a lawyer by the time the EEOC complaint is due, pull it out and file it with the EEOC. By the time the EEOC sends you its determination, you’ll have a lawyer.

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