The next question is, what is the EEOC? Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. What does it have to do with sexual harassment? The federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is what governs these interactions and makes this conduct illegal. That act requires that any claim that’s going to be brought under the act has to be brought first at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are charged with investigating the conduct and deciding whether or not they themselves will prosecute or give you what’s called a right to sue letter, and then you can go get a private attorney and bring your own private lawsuit. In recent years, the EEOC has also added another very important service, and that’s an early mediation service. Mediation is a process by which a neutral party helps two parties to a dispute resolve their dispute. I have found that, frequently, whether it’s a sexual harassment situation or wrongful termination, that mediations done at the appropriate time can be a very effective way to resolve the dispute. Sometimes if you try to do it two early when both sides don’t understand the claims, it may not be effective. More often than not, if both parties come to the mediation prepared to resolve the dispute in a reasonable way, the EEOC mediation process and other private mediation processes could be very, very effective.
Frequently, what will happen is the victim will file charge with the EEOC, and that has to be done within 180 days in some jurisdictions or 300 days in others. For example, Tennessee is what we call a referral jurisdiction, so victims have 300 days to file an EEOC charge in Tennessee, but only 180 days in Mississippi and Arkansas and some other states. That’s another reason to do some investigation, some research, or contact a lawyer about the so you know what the deadlines are. Once you file your charge, sometimes the claim will be assigned to a mediator before it goes through the investigations unit, and they’ll attempt to mediate and reconcile the case that way. If either of the parties chooses not to participate in mediation or you mediate the case and it just doesn’t resolve, for whatever reason, then it goes to the investigative arm of the EEOC. That’s usually on a different floor of the building. The investigators, then, will review the complaint, review the response of the respondent, the company. They may do an on-site investigation. They may ask for more documents. They’ll interview the victim, the complainant. Then, they’ll issue either a determination that there’s a violation or they’ll issue a determination that they were unable to find a violation and authorize the victim through a right to sue letter to bring their own lawsuit. Then, the case can either proceed in state or federal court, depending upon the circumstance.
EEOC has a very crucial role to play statutorily. As a practical matter, I’ll say that the EEOC’s resources are very limited, so they really pick and choose the kind of cases they take. Sometimes they pick the best cases, but more often then not, the EEOC says, “Okay, we’re going to really focus on certain kinds of cases,” and that’s what they’re on the lookout for. Then, they release all the other cases via right to sue letters. So if you receive a right to sue letter, don’t assume that your case doesn’t have any merit because the EEOC doesn’t want to file the case on your behalf. I’ve been doing this almost 0 years, and I can count on one hand the number of cases I’ve been involved in where the EEOC has filed a lawsuit and prosecuted the case themselves. It’s very, very rare. Most people end up pursuing the case via a private lawyer or on their own. Contact our attorneys for more information.
*This is a transcript of the Facebook Live video from 4-6-18 Click here to watch the video.