Federal laws forbid employers from making employment decisions on the basis of a person’s race or color, religion, gender or sex, pregnancy status, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing these laws and will take action on behalf of covered employees who believe they have been victims of employment discrimination. Covered employees include those working for companies with 15 or more employees. Victims of discrimination working for companies with fewer than 15 employees may be covered under New Jersey state laws.
Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in all areas of employment including job advertising, recruitment, application and hiring, job assignments and promotion, pay and benefits, dress code, discipline, and discharge. Discrimination can take many different forms, some of which are less obvious than others. In some cases, employers may not be even aware that they are engaged in discriminatory practices.
What to Do if You Suspect Discrimination
Your first course of action should always be to contact an experienced employment lawyer. After discussing the matter with lawyer, the step is likely to file an internal complaint with your company’s human resources department or labor union. This allows your employer the opportunity to resolve the issue without the hassle of going through the legal process. If you have gone through all of the appropriate channels within your organization, but are not satisfied with the response, you have the option of filing a “Charge of Discrimination” with the EEOC.
At this point, if you have not done so already, you are strongly advised to consult a qualified New Jersey employment lawyer with experience handling EEOC claims. Most federal laws, with the exception of the Equal Pay Act, require you to file a complaint with the EEOC before you can file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer. The information you provide in your EEOC complaint can significantly affect your ability to pursue a successful legal claim in the future, so it is important to choose your words wisely. A skilled employment lawyer can advise you on the best way to proceed.
In most cases, you must file an EEOC claim within 180 days of the date of the alleged discrimination. If more than one act of discrimination occurred, the deadline will usually apply to each separate event. Employees of the federal government have only 45 days to file a claim. These deadlines will not be extended while you attempt to resolve the issue on your own through your company’s HR department or labor union. Some exceptions may apply, including cases that involve ongoing harassment.
EEOC Claims Process
You must file your complaint with the EEOC either by mail or in person at one of the agency’s local offices. The agency will notify your employer within ten days of receiving your complaint. Then, both you and your employer may be asked to participate in mediation in order to reach a settlement. The mediator will act as a neutral third party, meaning he or she cannot advise you whether the deal you are being offered is a fair one. If either you or your employer refuses to participate, or if mediation does not resolve the issue, the EEOC will proceed with its own investigation of the matter.
If the EEOC is unable to determine whether your employer violated the law, the agency will issue a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue letter granting you permission to file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer. You have only a short time to file a lawsuit after receiving this letter, so you should be prepared to act quickly.
Penalties for Retaliation
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who have filed a discrimination complaint or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. This rule applies regardless of whether the complaint was filed internally or with the EEOC or similar state agency.
If you complained about harassment or discrimination, either on your own behalf or on behalf of someone else, and were subsequently fired, demoted, or otherwise denied job privileges, you may be able to file a separate retaliation charge against your employer. Talk to an experienced employment lawyer for advice on how to proceed with a retaliation claim.