The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that interprets and enforces the laws that prohibit workplace discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to interpret and enforce federal laws prohibiting discrimination. This federal agency issues regulations, holds hearings, administers equal employment opportunity for federal government employees, and litigates discrimination cases, among other things. The EEOC also accepts charges of discrimination from employees, investigates those charges, and attempts to mediate settlements between employees and employers.

Laws Enforced by the EEOC

The EEOC enforces federal antidiscrimination laws, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark statute prohibits workplace discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. It also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain of discrimination or otherwise assert their rights under the law.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Equal Pay Act requires employers to pay men and women equally for doing equal work. (For more information, see Equal Pay for Equal Work: the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963.)
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against employees and applicants who are at least 40; it also requires employers to provide equal benefits to older employees and mandates that employers provide certain information to older employees when they are asked to waive their right to sue for age discrimination (as part of a severance package, for example). For information on the ADEA, see Age Discrimination.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects employees and applicants with disabilities from discrimination. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to allow employees with disabilities to do their jobs. For information on these rights, see Disability Discrimination.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). GINA, the newest civil rights law, prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information. It also prohibits employers from gathering genetic information about employees in most circumstances, and requires them to keep any such information they acquire confidential.

What the EEOC Does

The EEOC has a number of responsibilities in its role as the interpreter and enforcer of these laws. When Congress passes a law prohibiting discrimination, the EEOC often issues regulations that interpret the law. These regulations define key terms, establish procedures for enforcing employee rights, and generally fill in the gaps left by Congress so employers know how to comply with the law -- and employees know what their rights are. In conjunction with its regulatory role, the EEOC often holds hearings and solicits public comments on key issues under consideration.

The EEOC also administers the process of EEO compliance in the federal government. If a federal government employee has a complaint about discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, that employee must complain to the EEO office in the federal agency, which investigates and processes the complaint. There may also be a hearing and decision by an administrative law judge. If the employee isn't satisfied with the outcome, the employee can appeal to a special office in the EEOC, which will issue a decision.

In its enforcement role, the EEOC takes charges of discrimination from employees and applicants. Filing a charge is a legal prerequisite to filing a lawsuit; employees who fail to complain to the EEOC and give it an opportunity to process the charge won't be allowed to sue. Once the EEOC receives a charge, it might take a number of actions, including:

  • dismiss the charge, if the EEOC concludes that it has no jurisdiction (for example, because the employee is alleging violation of a law the EEOC doesn't enforce, such as a wage and hour law, or if the employee missed the deadline to file a charge)
  • investigate the charge, by asking the employer and employee to provide information and interviewing witnesses
  • issue a finding (either that cause exists to believe discrimination took place or that no such cause exists)
  • attempt to mediate a settlement
  • litigate the charge itself on behalf of the employee (this is exceedingly rare).

To learn more about how the EEOC processes charges, and to find out the time limits for filing a charge, see Right to Sue Letter From the EEOC.

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