The mission of the EEOC, as set forth in its strategic plan, is to promote equal opportunity in employment through administrative and judicial enforcement of the federal civil rights laws, education and technical assistance.
The EEOC carries out its work at headquarters and in 50 field offices throughout the United States. Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against in employment begin the processes by filing administrative charges. Individual Commissioners may also initiate charges that the law has been violated. Through the investigation of charges, if the EEOC determines there is "reasonable cause" to believe that discrimination has occurred, it must then seek to conciliate the charge to reach a voluntary resolution between the charging party and the respondent. If conciliation is not successful, the EEOC may bring suit in federal court. Whenever the EEOC concludes its processing of a case, or earlier upon the request of a charging party, it issues a "notice of right to sue" which enables the charging party to bring an individual action in court. The Commission also issues regulatory and other forms of guidance interpreting the laws it enforces, is responsible for the federal sector employment discrimination program, provides funding and support to state and local fair employment practices agencies (FEPA's), and conducts broad-based outreach and technical assistance programs.
Once an employee or applicant files a charge, the EEOC then serves notice on the employer, usually by mail, that a charge has been filed against it. This notice normally includes a copy of the actual charge filed by the employee or applicant. Title VII and the ADA require that notice be served on the employer within 10 days after the Commission receives the charge, although the EEOC's workload often prevents it from meeting this statutory deadline. The EEOC's unintentional failure to meet this deadline, however, does not prevent the charge from proceeding, unless the employer can show that it was substantially prejudiced by the delay.
The filing of the charge triggers an EEOC investigation into whether or not there is reasonable cause to believe that the employer did in fact illegally discriminate against an individual in violation of Title VII, the ADEA the EPA and/or the ADA. There are no restrictions on the duration of an EEOC investigation, and the EEOC has the authority to inspect the employer's workplace, obtain employer documents, and interview witnesses. An employer may be asked to submit a written statement of position to explain its version of events. At some point in the investigation, a fact-finding conference might be held. Relatively informal, a fact-finding conference is attended by the charging party, respondent and necessary witnesses. No official record is made and witnesses are not placed under oath. Most employers bring counsel to the conference.
After concluding its investigation, the EEOC makes a determination as to whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the alleged discrimination occurred. A reasonable cause determination indicates that "it is more likely than not" that illegal discrimination took place. A no reasonable cause determination means that the EEOC has not found sufficient evidence to support a finding of discrimination. While a "no cause" finding does not bar the complaining party from subsequently filing suit in state or federal court on the same claim, as a practical matter most employees do not pursue their claims after the EEOC issues a "no cause" finding.
If the Commission does find reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it is obligated to try to eliminate the unlawful practice through a process known as "conciliation." In other words, it tries to settle the case. If the employee, the employer and the Commission reach an acceptable agreement, the parties will sign a conciliation agreement,...