Answer: Before you can file a lawsuit for discrimination under Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act, you must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal agency that interprets and enforces the laws prohibiting discrimination.
Once you file a charge, the EEOC will notify your employer. The EEOC will then decide how to proceed. Typically, the EEOC investigates the claim, often offering mediation as a way for the employer and employee to settle their differences.
If you are still employed when you file a charge of discrimination, the situation can get awkward. The law protects you from retaliation for asserting your rights, and you should immediately tell the EEOC investigator if you believe your employer has taken action against you because you filed a charge. You may also want to amend your charge to add a claim of retaliation.
When the EEOC completes its investigation, it usually will issue you a right to sue letter, which notifies you that the EEOC has finished processing your charge and you may file a lawsuit in court within 90 days. (You must file a charge before you can file a discrimination lawsuit.) In very rare cases, the EEOC might decide to litigate the case on your behalf.
If you are considering filing an EEOC charge, you should talk to an employment lawyer. The lawyer can help you complete the charge form, deal with the EEOC, and protect your rights throughout the process.