A right to sue letter by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gives you permission to file your employment discrimination lawsuit in federal court. Receiving one means that you have exhausted your administrative remedies for the discrimination, which is often a prerequisite for bringing a discrimination a private lawsuit.
It is as if the EEOC says to you:
“We’ve considered this matter, and we decided not to bring a lawsuit or take legal action ourselves. So we’re handing the ball over to you. If you and your lawyer want to bring a lawsuit, at this point, you have our blessing.”
The right to sue letter means that the EEOC will not assist in your case any longer. You will have 90 days to file your lawsuit.
What is a notice of right to sue letter from the EEOC?
The notice of right to sue is a letter that you receive from the EEOC after filing a charge of discrimination with the federal agency. The notice informs you that the EEOC has finished its investigation into your discrimination charge. In the letter, the EEOC states that it has done all that it can to resolve the case. The letter gives you permission to continue to pursue your claim of discrimination by filing a lawsuit against your employer.
You must have a right to sue letter before filing a lawsuit as to many employment discrimination claims. The right to sue letter shows that you have exhausted your administrative remedies, leaving you no other alternative but to file a lawsuit to resolve your case.
How does this fit in the administrative process for discrimination claims?
The EEOC’s right to sue letter is the end of the administrative process for resolving discrimination claims. Once you have received the letter, you can take your case to court.
The process for filing a discrimination claim is often unfamiliar to many people.
If you think that you have been discriminated against in the workplace, it is often wise to go to your employer’s human resources department, first. This step is often mandated by your employee contract or handbook. The human resources department may be able to adequately resolve your case.
Moreover, if your discrimination claim involves harassment by a non-supervisor, bringing your claim to HR is also essential for holding your employer liable. Generally, you can only hold your employer liable for non-supervisor harassment if the employer:
- knew or should have known about the harassment, and
- failed to take immediate and appropriate action to stop it.1
Taking your discrimination claim to the human resources department puts your employer on notice that it is happening. If your employer does not respond appropriately, it can strengthen your case.
If you are unsatisfied with your employer’s response, you can file a discrimination claim with the EEOC. If your state’s anti-discrimination laws provide greater protections, you may also want to file a charge with your state agency.
Once the EEOC receives your discrimination charge, they will investigate your claim. This generally involves an EEOC investigator:
- reviewing employment documents,
- reading workplace complaints,
- interviewing witnesses,
- taking a statement from you about your experiences, and
- receiving a rebuttal from your employer, denying your charges or explaining their side of the situation.
As the EEOC’s investigation wraps up, the agency will try to resolve the case through mediation. A mediator will try to get you and your employer to reach a mutually-agreeable solution.
If mediation fails, and the EEOC decides not to litigate the case itself, then the EEOC will issue a right to sue letter. This gives you permission to pursue your case in court on your own.
In some cases, an employment attorney can demand a right to sue letter right after filing the charge with the EEOC. This can speed up the case and bring it to court more quickly.
How long will I have to file my discrimination lawsuit?
Once you have received your right to sue letter from the EEOC, you only have 90 days to file your discrimination lawsuit in court.2
Before filing your discrimination lawsuit, though, you first have to file a charge with the EEOC. This charge has to be filed within 180 days of the wrongful or discriminatory conduct.3 However, if you are also going to file a state charge for employment discrimination, this deadline is extended to 300 days.4
Do I always need a right to sue letter?
Most claims of workplace discrimination require a right to sue letter before you can file your claim in court. However, there are 2 exceptions:
- violations of the Equal Pay Act, and
- age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).
Filing one of these claims does not require a right to sue letter from the EEOC.
Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act forbids sex discrimination in the workplace. However, it only covers pay discrimination. It requires men and women receive equal pay for equal work. The Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).5
These lawsuits can be filed in court without going through the administrative remedies provided by the EEOC. You have
- 2 years from the day that the pay discrimination took place to file suit, or
- 3 years if the discrimination was willful.6
Age Discrimination in Employment Act
For age discrimination lawsuits under the ADEA, do not need to first obtain a right to sue letter from the EEOC. However, you do still need to file a charge with the EEOC before suing your employer. Once you have filed the charge with the EEOC, you can initiate your lawsuit within 60 days.7
What is workplace discrimination?
Workplace discrimination is disparate treatment that is based on a protected class.8
Numerous state and federal employment laws forbid discrimination in the workplace. Some of the most important federal laws are:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA),
- Equal Pay Act (EPA), and
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Altogether, these laws provide legal protections to workers who belong to the following protected classes:
- national origin,
- genetic information,
- gender expression and identity,
- sexual orientation,
- physical or mental disability,
- marital status, and
- military or veteran status.
Disparate treatment can become a type of discrimination if it amounts to:
If you have been subjected to this kind of treatment because you belong to a protected class, you may have a discrimination case. You should strongly consider getting the help of an experienced employment lawyer. With the legal advice of a discrimination attorney from a good law firm, you can go through the necessary steps to sue your employer in federal or state court. An experienced attorney can help you first file your charge with the EEOC or the appropriate state agency before the time limit has expired.