This is not your father’s EEOC.

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was created in 1965 as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 becoming law.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked the end of the 100 year old Jim Crow era in the United States.

Under Jim Crow, Southern states enacted laws that made segregation mandatory in the everyday lives of blacks and whites.  Jim Crow laws were designed to prevent blacks from advancing both socially and economically.  In the Northern states, blacks faced discrimination and segregation in hiring, housing, and education.

The EEOC’s purpose is to protect workers from workplace discrimination and its mandate is to investigate worker’s complaints.  In EEOC’s early years, discrimination and segregation in hiring were routine practices in both Southern and Northern states.  Workplace discrimination occurred in plain sight.  Workers could rely on EEOC to investigate their complaints.  And, these investigations could lead to out-of-court settlements.

Today, almost sixty years later, workers can no longer rely on EEOC to investigate their complaints.  For decades, EEOC has had a backlog of cases because Congress has not provided the funding it needs to investigate an ever increasing number of discrimination complaints.  In order to cope with its backlog, EEOC is prioritizing cases, which means an ever increasing number of cases are dismissed before they can be investigated.  This practice leaves many workers out in the cold.

Workplace discrimination is difficult to prove.  Workplace discrimination is no longer occurs in plain sight as it did in the 1960’s.  Employers take measures to avoid costly discrimination lawsuits.  Outside consultants and HR personnel train management on how to prevent workplace discrimination, as well as, how to cover up workplace discrimination when it occurs.

The employment laws strongly favors employers over workers.  For instance, the employment-at-will doctrine provides employers with a lot of protection against allegations of discrimination.  The doctrine says that an employer can termination (which includes denial of promotion, demotion, and undesirable reassignment) a worker at any time and for any reason, good or bad, provided it is not done for a discriminatory reason.  This means that a worker is burdened with proving that his termination was a direct result of discrimination.

When an employer decides to terminate a worker, it generally places the worker under heightened scrutiny for a period of time in order to generate a paper trail of deficient job performance.  The paper trail is a defense against allegations that the termination was discriminatory.  Furthermore, employers routinely deny all allegations of discrimination.  It means that in the absence of a “smoking gun” workplace discrimination is difficult to prove.

Most workers are aware that federal statutes prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, religion, age, and disability.  Unfortunately, federal statutes give workers a false sense of security.  The outcome of an actual discrimination case depends on the applicable case law of a particular locality and relevant facts that may be in dispute.  Only, an experienced lawyer can gain access to and make effective use of this kind of information.  As a result, workers who files discrimination complaints with EEOC, without consulting an experienced lawyer, are generally out of their depth.

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Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

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