Federal law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, national origin, sex, religion or age. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces violations of federal employment discrimination laws. Employees or job applicants who believe they have been the victim of employment discrimination must file a complaint with the EEOC’s main office in Washington, D.C., or one of its field offices. One of the results of an EEOC investigation into an employment discrimination complaint is a dismissal notice.
When the EEOC receives a complaint, it opens a case, known as a charge, and begins an investigation. If the commission determines its investigation shows reasonable cause to believe that employment discrimination has occurred, it sends a letter of determination to both parties. The letter invites both parties “to join the agency in seeking to resolve the charge, through an informal process known as conciliation,” according to the EEOC’s website. With EEOC support, the parties attempt to settle the dispute. If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, the commission either files a lawsuit against the employer in federal court or decides not to litigate the charge. The commission sends the claimant a notice of right to sue if it chooses not to file a lawsuit.
The EEOC dismisses claims for a variety of reasons, including cases in which the charging party failed to file the complaint within the period required by statute or the facts do not support a discrimination claim. When the commission dismisses a charge, it sends the charging party a dismissal and notice of rights. This letter informs the party that the commission has decided to dismiss the charge and informs her that she has the right to file a lawsuit in federal court. The commission also sends a copy of the letter to the employer.
A dismissal closes the EEOC charge. The charging party has the right to a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days from the date of receipt of the letter. In practice, when the EEOC dismisses charges, claimants have a difficult time finding an attorney within the 90-day period. Lawyers are often reluctant to accept employment-discrimination cases on a contingency-fee basis -- meaning that an attorney, if successful at trial, receives a percentage of the claimant’s damage award -- because the amount in controversy is usually relatively low. Employment-discrimination claimants typically either cannot afford an attorney’s hourly rate or conclude that it makes little economic sense to pursue a lawsuit because of the litigation costs. The facts or legal reasoning on which the commission based its dismissal often make an employment-discrimination lawsuit centered on the same alleged violation difficult to win. Some states have employment-discrimination laws, providing claimants in those states another venue for filing a lawsuit.
A dismissal notice usually means the end of the case for an employer. It still faces the risk of defending a federal employment-discrimination lawsuit if the claimant files one within the 90-day period or a lawsuit filed in state court. In some cases, a dismissed employment-discrimination claim causes an employer to review its employment practices and to educate or retrain employees to avoid a similar EEOC charge in the future.