U.S. employers are subject to numerous regulations and the oversight of various federal agencies. This includes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency responsible for enforcement of federal laws on employment discrimination. Under these laws, employees are given rights to voice grievances, and to seek accountability on the part of employers that commit violations. Before they can file a lawsuit against an employer, however, employees must generally first exhaust administrative remedies, including the filing of an EEOC complaint.
While anti-discrimination laws and regulatory agencies like the EEOC provide workers with important rights, they are also designed to account for the rights of employers. If your company has received an EEOC complaint, protecting your rights, navigating what can be an unfamiliar and high stakes process, and defending against lawsuits demands a calculated response and immediate attention from experienced lawyers.
Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. is a Houston-based law firm with a reputation for nationally recognized legal representation. Our firm serves a range of clients and businesses throughout the state in matters involving business law and litigation, regulatory compliance, health care, and administrative oversight from agencies such as OSHA of the EEOC. Our depth of experience and insight in these matters can prove crucial for employers who need to understand the process and take the right steps after receiving an EEOC complaint.
The EEOC Complaint Process & The Importance of Legal Representation
EEOC discrimination complaints, also referred to as a “charge of discrimination” or “charge,” are not actually legal criminal or civil allegations. They are part of an administrative process in which employers are notified of complaints made by employees. In some cases, EEOC complaints are quickly dismissed on their merits and lack of violations, or because time limits for filing have expired. There are cases, however, where complaints lead to investigations.
The EEOC complaint process is as follows:
- EEOC Investigation – Charges that are not immediately dismissed will be subject to investigation. An EEOC investigator assigned to the case will typically ask employers to provide information and statements, make witnesses available for interview, or facilitate worksite visitations. Legal representation as soon as possible after being notified of an investigation is critical to navigating the early stages of the process, communicating with EEOC investigations, reducing costs and effort associated with compliance, and ultimately reducing the potential for costly mistakes which cannot be undone.
- EEOC Subpoena – The EEOC can subpoena employers who do not comply with investigations in order to obtain the information they need. While this can create undue stress and strain on a business, attorneys with experience in regulatory investigations can help employers explore options for good faith negotiations that may help limit requests in a reasonable manner to ensure investigators receive what they need, while simultaneously protecting the rights and interests of employers. Even prior to subpoenas, intervention by an attorney can help establish a dialogue with regulators about the scope and direction of an investigation, providing opportunities to structure response strategies, engage in negotiations, and best position employers for a positive outcome.
- EEOC Determinations – Upon completion of an investigation, the EEOC will make one of two initial determinations regarding the complaint. They will either: (1) find no reasonable justification that proves discrimination, and issue a dismissal and notification to an employee about their right to file a federal lawsuit within 90 days, or (2) issue a determination letter to both employer and employee that there is a reasonable belief discrimination occurred, and provide both parties with the option to participate in conciliation. Conciliation is a voluntary and informal dispute resolution process in which employers can negotiate resolutions with employees without an admission of liability.
- EEOC Lawsuits – In the event that conciliation is declined or fails to resolve the underlying dispute, the EEOC may either (1) file a federal lawsuit against the employer, which is an action more likely in cases where patterns or discrimination are pervasive or systemic within a larger company, or (2) not file suit against an employer, and instead notify an employee of their right to filed a lawsuit within 90 days, providing them with the ability to proceed in federal court.
Pursuing a Positive Resolution
Securing legal counsel in the early stages of the EEOC complaint process is critical to help employers understand and protect their rights. Employers need to know what to expect, and how to best implement a course of action that reduces risks of potential lawsuits, civil liability, and ancillary repercussions, such as reputational harm, loss of contracts, or other adverse regulatory or legal action. In addition to helping employers continue the operation of their business with minimal disruption and expense, early intervention can also help employers better position themselves for communication, negotiations, and reasonable resolutions.
Because employees have the right to file suit even when EEOC determinations do not find reason to believe discrimination occurred, and because any federal suit filed by the EEOC itself is an immensely serious matter with the potential for severe penalties, employers should never dismiss an EEOC complaint under the assumption that is insignificant or that they can simply “make it go away.” Doing so not only creates the potential for mistakes, greater scrutiny, and legal action, but also the likelihood that in the event lawsuits are filed, employers will be unprepared to defend against them.
Representing Employers Throughout Texas
Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. has been trusted by individuals, entrepreneurs, and companies of all sizes throughout Texas and the U.S. in a range of complex commercial and regulatory matters. Our team knows that employers have significant concerns when facing administrative action and charges from the EEOC, are is committed to helping them make an immediate response.
If you have questions about an EEOC complaint and would like to discuss how our services may be of benefit during this critical time, call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online to speak with a member of our team.