Should You File a Complaint with the EEOC?

Before you can sue your company, you must obtain a Right to Sue from your state agency or from the EEOC. This means navigating a government beauracracy and meeting a high burden of proof.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees.

Complaint Dismissed

Your complaint can be dismissed for a number of reasons, including not enough evidence, complaint filed outside of legal timeframe, the complaint does not meet the legal requirements of discrimination or harassment, etc.

Mediation & Settlement

The EEOC’s first and most preferred avenue for resolving a charge, is mediation and settlement. At every possible juncture in the complaint process, starting with intake, through investigation, and ending with the investigation finding, there is an option to pursue settlement through mediation.

Right to Sue Letter

If you receive a Right to Sue Letter, you have 180 days, 90 days for age discrimination, to find an attorney that will take your case, and sue your company in federal court. A Right To Sue Letter will be issued if the mandated time for investigation of a claim has lapsed, or if the investigation finds discrimination did occur, and a settlement can’t be reached between all parties.

EEOC Takes Case

In a very small number of cases (1-3%) The EEOC may choose to litigate your case on your behalf, to “protect the rights of the individual and the public”. They take a number of factors into account, including their time and resources to pursue litigation, the type of case, how strong the evidence is, and the possible impact for the public.

Is Filing a Complaint With the EEOC an Option?

Before you file a complaint with the EEOC, make sure it is on option that works for you.  Determine the following:

1. Determine if Your Claim is Eligible for Complaint

Filing a claim with the EEOC is an option only if certain conditions are met, according to the law. Many complaints are quickly dismissed because they don’t meet these three criteria. If you answer YES to all three questions, you may file a complaint with the EEOC:

2. Evaluate the Benefits & Risks

Creating an outline of all the potential benefits and risks will help you come to a conclusion on the best way to proceed.

  • What are the risks and benefits of filing a complaint with the EEOC or your State Agency 
  • Here are some potential benefits and risks to consider:

Leverage: You may be able to leverage filing a charge with the EEOC, so your complaint is resolved more satisfactorily with your company. Your company may not want the cost, disruption and examination of a state/federal investigation into their employment practices.

Cost = Free: It doesn’t cost you any money to file a complaint with the EEOC or your state agency. You can always choose to hire an attorney to handle mediation and settlement, later in the process.

Remain Employed: You should be able to remain employed during the EEOC complaint process. The law states it is illegal to fire an employee for filing a complaint with the EEOC. Companies generally avoid additional charges of retaliation, while a complaint is open.

Free Mediation: The EEOC offers mediation to facilitate a quick resolution. You can represent yourself or hire an attorney for the mediation and settlement process, but it isn’t required.

Put it on the Record: Even if your case doesn’t conclude to your highest satisfaction, putting your company on the record as having an issue with discrimination or harassment may establish a history for future complaints.

Greater Visibility: Many people never file a complaint with the EEOC because the process is burdensome. But their numbers are used to establish how pervasive discrimination and harassment are. The true scope of the problem in American businesses is unclear. More complaints may call attention to the problem and help fund resources.


Time Intesive: This is NOT a quick process. If both parties decide to mediate early on, it can take as little as three months to resolve your case. If you move forward with an investigation, it may be six months to a year, or longer, to get either a finding or a Right to Sue Letter.

Hoops: The process requires a lot of work from you. This includes filling out long forms, sometimes multiple times, submitting paperwork, follow up, keeping track of important dates, making yourself available for phone calls and meetings, just to sit around and wait. Get used to jumping through hoops and long waits.

Limits on Compensation: There are limits on how much money you can recoup, based on the size of your company, and that is the most you MAY be awarded. You will have to pay attorney’s and taxes and will end up with far less than these numbers suggest.
15-100 employees limit is $50,000
101-200 employees limit is $100,000
201-500 employees limit is $200,000
500 + employees, the limit is $300,000

Retaliation: You can file a complaint with the EEOC while you are employed by the company. It is illegal for your company to retaliate for filing a complaint, or testifying in a complaint. Your company may risk a retaliation complaint and terminate your employment.

Mental Health: Going through this process will most likely effect your mental health. It is a grind. And without a lot of positive feedback along the way. In some cases, the process can be re-victimizing – having to rehash the details of your case, over and over again. Plan on being exhausted and frustrated through out the process. And make a plan to take care of yourself. See our blog about managing your mental health HERE.

Unsatisfactory Outcome: As if dealing with discrimination and harassment isn’t hard enough to manage, many cases are funneled into and out of a dismissal and mediation process that lacks real accountability for the company, while burdening the complainant with a lot of work that rarely makes you whole.

Lack of Accountability: Your company will rarely be held accountable to make meaningful changes to their policies. The EEOC lacks the resources to really make an impact with small or medium sized companies. They concentrate on large companies where they hope to make an example for small and medium sized companies.

3. Determine Your Goals

Having a clear goal in mind is critical to keep you pointed in the right direction. If you choose to settle, you will have settlement requirements that must be met, before you ever start the settlement process. Your goal can be anything from financial compensation, change to company policy, and more.

Take some time to write down answers to the following questions:

  • What is the best possible outcome for you?
  • What do you NEED?
  • What do you WANT?
  • Determine if filing a complaint will help you accomplish these goals

“Whenever discrimination is found, the goal of the law is to put the victim of discrimination in the same position (or nearly the same) that he or she would have been if the discrimination had never occurred.”


What to Expect


The EEOC is a government bureaucracy. They have their process. The process takes time. But there is a method to the madness. They have to review, investigate, and mediate a lot of cases. It can feel like you have to jump through a ton of hoops. Because you do.

Neutral Party

Up until the investigation is complete, and a claim has been found to be valid, the EEOC is a neutral party. They are not on your side or your company’s side – even if it may feel that way. In order to investigate and mediate, they must remain neutral throughout the process. Only if the EEOC decides to litigate your case, does the agency take your side.

Mediation & Settlement

The EEOC will always work to facilitate mediation and a settlement, at every stage of their investigation process. You can choose to include them in this process or you can work directly with your company. Once a settlement is reached, The EEOC closes their case.

Limited Resources

The EEOC has limited resources. And they have to sift through a large number of claims. They are acting within the law. They can’t change the law.

Roles and Responsibilities


  • Represent Yourself
  • Define, speak and hold people accountable to your boundaries
  • Document Everything!
  • Be Prepared for each stage of the process
  • Keep track of important deadlines
  • Provide all documents and information required 
  • Be clear about your goals for mediation and settlement
Roles and Responsibilities


  • EEOC Responsibility to employees / complainants
  • EEOC is a neutral party
  • Facilitate mediation for settlement
  • Investigate complaints of harassment.
  • Make a perfunctory finding for the complaint
  • Issue complainant a “Right To Sue” letter, without finding
  • Issue complainant a “Right To Sue” with finding
  • Can take direct legal action with a company – only done in 1-3% of all cases

EEOC Process

If There Is No Settlement

If you can’t come to a settlement with your company during the EEOC investigation process, ther are two possible outcomes:

Case Dismissed:

Your case can be dismissed for all sorts of reasons. You may appeal a dismissal, but you have a short time frame to appeal a decision.

Right to Sue

If the EEOC finds the complaint is valid, they will issue a Right To Sue Letter.  You may also get one if the investigation time frame has lapsed, without determining if your claim is valid. 

Should You Hire an Attorney For the EEOC Investigation?

Hiring an Attorney for the EEOC investigation process isn’t necessary. But you should strongly consider it for all or parts of this process. This is a legal process with legal procedure, negotiations and unforseen roadblocks an attorney can more easily navigate. If you have limited funds or options, consider hiring an attorney for part of the process:

  • Represent you during interviews, investigation, meetings
  • Negotiate and mediate settlements
  • Review legal documents, settlements

It can be intimidating sitting across the table from your companies lawyers, representing your own interests. They may not take you as seriously during the mediation process. The EEOC mediator may inform you of rules and laws, but they will not negotiate on your behalf.

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