What Every Business Owner and Employee Should Know about EEOC Complaints

Woman worrying about which attorney to hire for her EEOC complaint

Our employment lawyers discusses Colorado EEOC complaints

Imagine this: a newly hired employee comes into work. During office hours, she casually mentions to another staff member that she is six months pregnant. The staff member then asks her if she “intends to keep the baby,” or if “she is acting as a surrogate for another family.” The pregnant staff member confirms that she is keeping the baby. She is fired the next day.

While this may seem like an obvious case of illegal discriminatory behavior, it was committed, nonetheless, by a Westminster Law Firm in Colorado, proving that even legal experts make mistakes when it comes to ethical behavior.

Since being fired, the pregnant worker has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In September 2017, the EEOC filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the employee. If the employee wins, she will be awarded back pay, future monetary losses and punitive damages.

What types of discriminatory behavior warrant an EEOC complaint? Discrimination based on sex (gender), religion, race, nationality, age, disability, pregnancy, harassment (sexual and nonsexual), equal compensation or retaliation. Retaliation is when an employer punishes an employee for participating in a protected activity. Examples of a protected activity are: being a witness to another person’s EEOC complaint, raising concerns about a suspected discriminatory practice, resisting sexual advances or requesting accommodation of a disability or religious practice.

For businesses: avoiding discriminatory behavior

Even the most well-meaning or knowledgeable employer can become guilty of discriminatory behavior, as demonstrated by the story above. EEOC complaints are enormously costly, whether or not the employee wins, a company can still spend thousands of dollars in legal fees (average cost of an EEOC complaint for an employer is $125,000). What’s more, an EEOC complaint damages community trust in the employer and can hinder other business opportunities.

According to EEOC statistics, the most common EEOC complaints in 2016 were retaliation (46%), race (35%), disability (31%) and sex/gender(29%) related.

Thus, having internal systems and policies in place are crucial to preventing discriminatory behavior. Also, if a complaint is filed, proof of having such policies and systems in place can significantly lessen the damage and cost of said complaint during trial. Below is a list of anti-discriminatory policies every smart business should have:

  1. Have and implement an employment discrimination policy: this should be part of your onboarding training for new employees, and should discuss what behavior is not tolerated in the workplace and how discriminated persons can report discriminatory behavior to their superiors.
  2. Have anti-discrimination training for all managers: a good training should teach managers what potentially discriminatory behaviors to avoid, as well as how to recognize and mitigate discriminatory behavior of others.
  3. Be public about your anti-discriminatory culture. This can be a part of a business’s core values and/or philosophy.

If despite your best efforts, your company receives an EEOC complaint then it’s important you start gathering information for your case immediately. During this process, it’s extremely important that you do NOT try to talk to your employee, as this can be misconstrued as coercion or harassment. Read more information on how to handle an EEOC complaint here.

If your company receives an EEOC complaint, call the experienced labor law attorneys at Robinson & Henry, PC. We will help you craft a response and defend your interests around the mediation table or, if necessary, in a court of law.

For employees: how to file a complaint

[Please note federal employees have a different procedure than the one described below]

Discriminatory behavior is illegal, and something an employee should not have to face while at work. If you have been discriminated against, harassed or been a victim of retaliation, then you can, and should file a complaint with the EEOC. Here is how you can do it:

1. Make sure your case meets the time limit requirement. A complaint must be filed in a timely manner (time limits do not apply to claims under the Equal Pay Act), otherwise the EEOC may not have jurisdiction to investigate it. In most cases the filing deadline is 180 days from the date the incident took place.

2. A complaint must be filed with the local EEOC field office. For Denver this office is located at:

303 E. 17th Avenue
Suite 410
Denver, Colorado 80203
Hours of Operation: 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM MT, Monday – Friday

The employee can either file the complaint themselves, or they can have an attorney do it for them.

Filing with an attorney: An employee can have an attorney file an EEOC complaint on their behalf. The benefits of going this route are:

  1. An attorney can assess all potential claims an employee may have against their employer. If any claims are not stated in original complaint, then they cannot be later used against the employer. An attorney is trained to review discrimination cases and can add additional claims against your employer that you may not have thought of.
  2. The EEOC process can be long and grueling. An attorney can follow-up on the complaint – so you don’t have to worry about its status.
  3. An attorney knows how to build a strong case against your employer. They know what evidence is needed and how it should be presented to the EEOC to obtain the best outcome.

Filing on your own: An employee may file a claim in person at the office or over the phone by calling 1-800-669-4000. While walk-ins are accepted, the office recommends that a filer call first to make sure their complaint falls within that office’s jurisdiction before coming in.

An employee can utilize this office’s online assessment tool to determine if the office has jurisdiction over the complaint; the tool also serves as an intake form to begin the submission process. Once the intake form is finished, the employee must either bring it or mail it to the EEOC.

3. Once a complaint has been filed the employee has to wait for the EEOC to make a determination on the case. If the EEOC determines that the employee has a right to sue, the employee only has 90 days to file a lawsuit.

An attorney can make all the difference in your EEOC case. Even if you have already initiated an EEOC complaint on your own, an attorney can help during step 3 – filing a lawsuit and representing you in a court of law.

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