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The Scope of an EEOC Investigation

Introduction: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is responsible for enforcing the federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the individual’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Most employers with at least 15 employees are subject to discrimination laws and thus the EEOC’s jurisdiction, with the exception of age discrimination cases, which require 20 employees. Employees asserting certain claims must first exhaust their available remedies through the EEOC before they can file a lawsuit in Federal Court.

Scope of the EEOC Investigation

As mentioned above, employees must go through the EEOC process when asserting certain claims before they can file a lawsuit in Federal Court. First, the employee must file a Charge of Discrimination (“Charge”) with the EEOC. From there, the EEOC investigates the Charge. The EEOC investigators contact the employer and request a response to the Charge. The employers submit what is called a “position statement,” which outlines their position on the issues. The EEOC investigators then contact witnesses and review evidence before making a cause determination. The EEOC then either issues a determination of cause and works with the employer to reconcile the issues or the EEOC issues a no cause finding, which then authorizes the employee to file a lawsuit in Federal Court.

The employee is only permitted to file a lawsuit on the issues covered in the EEOC’s investigation. The EEOC’s investigation is limited to the issues that could reasonably be drawn from the Charge. For example, if the Charge discusses discrimination on the basis of race, then an employee can file a Title VII lawsuit based on race discrimination. However, if an employee’s Charge discusses discrimination on the basis of race, then an employee cannot thereafter file a lawsuit based on disability discrimination because that issue was not within the scope of the Charge. While that is a clearer example, there are times when the scope of the EEOC’s investigation is not as clear. For instance, if a Charge only contemplates discrimination, would it be reasonable for the EEOC’s investigation to cover retaliation? Generally, it depends on the facts contained in the Charge. The same is true with pregnancy discrimination and gender discrimination. It is important for employees to include all potential employment law issues in the Charge so that the EEOC can investigate all such issues.

If you feel your employment rights have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding the same, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!