HR Compliance

What to Do When a Charge of Discrimination Is Made

By

Kristin Birchell

| May 9, 2018

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), more than 84,000 workplace discrimination charges were filed in 2017. Because these charges can escalate into costly lawsuits, employers must understand what to do if charges are made against them to avoid unnecessary mistakes that could cost time and money. Here is a look at what happens – and what to do – when a charge of discrimination is made against your organization.

Employer notice

When a charge is filed against your organization, the EEOC will generally notify you within 10 days. The notification will typically include the name and contact information for the investigator assigned to the case, steps to take if you are interested in mediating the charge (see discussion below) as well as a URL for you to log into the EEOC’s Respondent Portal to view and download the charge. This portal also is used to upload your organization’s position statement and responses to any requests for information during the investigation process.

The investigation process

The EEOC generally has a broad scope of authority in conducting investigations of alleged or suspected discriminatory conduct. During this process, your organization will be asked to provide certain information, which may include:

  • Position statement – This is your organization’s statement of its position in regard to the charges. In other words, it is your opportunity to tell your side of the story. Your organization should take advantage of this opportunity and include applicable policies and references to any issues and documents that would render the charges invalid.
  • Responses to Requests for Information (RFI) – These requests may be for copies of personnel policies, personnel files and other relevant information. Failure to respond may result in an administrative subpoena issued and served to your organization.
  • Employee contact information for witness interviews – The employer has the right to have a representative attend interviews of management personnel but the EEOC can generally interview non-management employees outside the employer’s presence.

If you have information that would show that the allegations are false or that your organization did not violate the law, provide this information to the investigator. You may also be asked to permit an on-site visit by the investigator.

After the investigation

Once its investigation is complete, the EEOC will make a determination on the merits of the charge(s). Most often, it will choose not to file a lawsuit and instead issue either a Dismissal and Notice of Rights or a Letter of Determination.

The Dismissal and Notice of Rights indicates its investigation was unable to conclude that the information obtained established unlawful discrimination; however, the employee who made the complaint is free to file a lawsuit in court.

If the EEOC determines discrimination may have occurred, it will send a Letter of Determination and attempt to have the parties settle the matter outside of court. If the parties do not reach a settlement agreement, the EEOC will send the employee a Right to Sue letter, allowing him or her to bring suit in federal court. In rare cases, the EEOC may file a lawsuit on behalf of the employee.

3 Ways to Resolve Charges

In general, three methods exist for successfully resolving charges of discrimination outside of litigation: mediation, settlement and conciliation.

1. Mediation

Mediation is an informal process in which a trained mediator assists the parties to try and reach a negotiated resolution. It generally is initiated before an investigation and is completely voluntary.

This process allows the parties to resolve the matters in dispute in a way that is mutually satisfactory. It is also much faster than the traditional investigation process. The main benefit for mediating is that it allows the parties an opportunity to reach a resolution before incurring the time and expense involved in the traditional investigatory process.

If mediation is successful, the charges filed with the EEOC will be closed. If unsuccessful, the charges will be referred for investigation.

2. Settlement

Settlement of the charges may take place at any time during the investigation. Similar to mediation, settlement is completely voluntary, and the goal is to reach an agreement that satisfies both parties. Settling charges generally occurs with no admission of liability, but if a settlement is reached, those charges are dismissed.

3. Conciliation

The EEOC is required by Title VII to attempt to resolve findings of discrimination through conciliation. However, this process is triggered only after the parties have been notified that, through evidence gathered in the investigation, there was reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. This process is intended to help the employer and the EEOC negotiate how the employer can change its policies and practices to comply with the laws, and also to determine any amount of damages the employer should pay to the employee.

In some instances, the employer can be at a disadvantage during this process because it may not be entirely aware of the evidentiary basis for the EEOC’s determination that discrimination has occurred. Unlike in litigation, there are no disclosure obligations.

If the conciliation process fails, the EEOC then decides whether to sue the employer in court.

Your organization should not ignore or fail to respond to charges of discrimination. Employers often conduct their own investigation to determine the claim’s merits. In many cases, employers opt to resolve charges early in the process through mediation or settlement to avoid costly litigation. However, you may choose not to engage in these types of voluntary resolutions if you feel the claims have no merit.

To learn more about preventing workplace discrimination, see our related blog posts on “Diversity Training in the Workplace: Helping Managers Understand ‘Cultural Fit’” and “2 Questions You Never Should Ask a Job Candidate … and What You Should Ask Instead.”

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

About the Author

Kristin Birchell

As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Kristin Birchell monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, with a focus on labor and employment laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. Previously, she served as an attorney at the Oklahoma City law firm Derryberry & Naifeh LLP. Birchell earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA from the University of Central Missouri, and her Juris Doctor from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, hiking, going to the movies and spending time with her husband.

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