By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

Millions of American workers rely on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to protect them against workplace discrimination.  Unfortunately, that reliance is misguided.

Less than 5 percent of workers who filed job discrimination complaints against their employer with EEOC receive a favorable decision from the agency.  With the number of discrimination complaints growing each year, EEOC does not have the funding to conduct investigations.  In order to reduce its backlog, EEOC dismisses a growing number of complaints without even investigating them.  When EEOC dismisses a complaint, it sends the employee a “right-to-sue” letter which instructs them to file a discrimination lawsuit in federal court within 90 days.  For most people, a “right-to-sue” letter marks the end of the road.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom occurred in August 1963, it was the highlight of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.  Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of over 250,000 people.

That year, President John F. Kennedy meet with civil rights leaders and introduced a bill in Congress to address discrimination against black people.  In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made job discrimination illegal based on race, sex, national origin, and religion.   The Civil Rights Act marked the official end of the Jim Crow era that terrorized black people for 100 years.  The Act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) whose mandate is to protect workers from job discrimination.

Almost sixty years later, the EEOC is out of favor in Congress; ending job discrimination is not a priority.  For all practical purposes, due to a lack of funding from Congress, the EEOC can no longer fulfill its stated purpose of protecting workers from job discrimination.

Today, black people are not the only victims of job discrimination.  Because of the #metoo era, women have filed a flood of sexual harassment complaints with EEOC.  There are also more age and disability discrimination complaints being filed with the agency.

Since EEOC lacks the funding to enforcing workplace discrimination laws, employers know that there is little or no penalty for allowing workplace discrimination to continue.  It is no wonder that the vast majority of workers who are experiencing discrimination in the workplace never file a complaint with EEOC.  Most of these workers fear retaliation by their employers.

Nonetheless, filing a complaint with EEOC offers important benefits: 1) filing a complaint with EEOC is a prerequisite to filing a discrimination lawsuit in federal court; and, 2) EEOC offers mediation which can lead to a settlement.  While most workers do not have the means or the desire to file a discrimination lawsuit in federal court, many workers expect to resolve their complaint through mediation.

In conclusion, EEOC’s mediation service can be very beneficial to workers.  However, no worker should expect EEOC to advocate for them.  To the contrary, many feel that EEOC is working to the benefit of employers.  Anyone who is contemplating filing a complaint with EEOC should seek advice from an experienced civil rights attorney.

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