“But they fired me because I’m Black! Why can’t you help me?!”
This was a sad but true encounter I had recently. This person was fired for a suspicious reason, there were plenty of surrounding circumstances that sounded like his race was an issue, and he was replaced with a person of a different race. His claim sounded like a potentially cognizable claim for workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Problem? He did not file a Charge with the EEOC in time.
Most people do not know but there are initial requirements that must be done in order to pursue a claim under most workplace discrimination statutes. One of those requirements — filing a “charge” with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) — is the subject of this article. This article will be limited to only one such requirement and does not address the various others imposed by statute at the federal or state level.
“Filing a Charge” With the EEOC
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency tasked with enforcing and interpreting most of the workplace discrimination statutes at the federal level. The easiest way to think about it is to ask: was I mistreated because of some trait or characteristic of mine? If yes, there is a good chance you must file a charge with the EEOC initially to pursue your claim.
The following statutes fall under the EEOC’s umbrella and require a charge to be filed:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: prohibits employment discrimination against any individual on the basis of his/her race, color, national origin, religion, or sex;
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act: prohibits age discrimination against individuals 40 years of age or older;
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act: prohibits employment discrimination against a “qualified individual with a disability.”
If you believe any of these statutes are implicated, you must file a charge with the EEOC within either a) 180 days or b) 300 days if your state has a Fair Employment Practices Agency (“FEPA”). As you can see, there is a potentially tight turnaround time required. It is very common for potential claims to be effectively foreclosed.
Because I am licensed in both Texas and Arkansas and work in a border city, my suggestion is to assume the 180-day requirement always applies. The reason is that Arkansas does not have a FEPA while Texas does. Texarkana is a border city and there are potential situations where it is uncertain which rule would apply.
Example: Plaintiff lives in Texarkana, Arkansas and works for the EZ Mart Corporation which is headquartered Texarkana, Texas. The Company has convenience stores throughout both Texas and Arkansas. Plaintiff worked at stores in both states and some of the evidence of discrimination arose in both states. Based on these facts, it would take a licensed attorney to determine which deadline applies and could result in a Motion to Dismiss if the answer is based on caselaw rather than statute. Assuming the 180-day requirement applies in every situation eliminates the uncertainty.
What is a Charge?
A charge is a short document detailing allegations you have against your employer. Charges can be filed online, in-person at an EEOC Office or FEPA Agency, by telephone at 1-800-669-4000, and by mail. Because they are required every single time, the EEOC makes it as easy as possible to get the charge filed.
The information required for the charge is fairly simple. Names, dates, places, and so forth are all you really need. The most important things to remember are 1) make sure to cover all of your allegations rather than the ones you feel are most important and 2) include enough detail for a reasonable person to understand what your allegations are. This is not a Complaint you file in court where you must provide as much detail as possible, but you must include enough for someone to evaluate and respond to your claims. Please review this example so you can see what the form itself will look like.
The EEOC will assist you in filling out the charge form if you ask. Private attorneys may also be open to helping if your claim sounds viable. Finally, some legal nonprofit organizations may assist if you ask. You should, however, exercise caution. There is no exception to the applicable filing requirement for seeking an expert’s help. If the attorney or organization does not follow up with you until Day 181, you will not have a claim.
What Comes Next?
Once you file your charge, the EEOC will reach out to your employer to get their response. After investigating the matter, the EEOC will do one of three things: 1) it will tell you that no discrimination occurred, 2) it will represent you against your employer and handle the issue itself, or 3) it will issue a “Right to Sue” letter allowing you to retain a private attorney to assist in pursuing your claim.
As you can see, getting a “Right to Sue” letter is absolutely required before an attorney can assist you in filing a lawsuit. This is the unfortunate circumstance the gentleman who called me found himself in.
Do you believe you have been discriminated against by your employer? Please feel free to reach out to us to learn about your rights. We can be reached at (903) 221-9180 or you can email our Client Services Director at email@example.com.