Do I need a lawyer for the EEOC?

*This is a transcript of the Facebook Live video from 5-18-18  Click here to watch the video.

Yes and no. I think it’s very helpful to have legal help in processing these claims. Keep in mind that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has what we lawyers call a fee-shifting provision, which means that the defendant has to pay your legal fees above and beyond, or I should say in addition to, the claims, so if your claim is worth $10,000 and you’ve got $20,000 in legal fees, then you get a check for $10,000 less taxes, and the attorney gets a check for his or her fees. It’s not like most other situations, where a percentage of what you get is taken out. You’ve got very little to lose in hiring a lawyer, and I think it can be helpful in responding to the EEOC. Frequently, even if you’re a complainant, they may ask you for information, and so it’s helpful to have a lawyer help you marshal that information, put it together, and put it in a format that the investigator can use quickly.

The easier you can make the investigator’s job, the more anxious she is going to be to work on your case as opposed to another case. Plus, sometimes it’s also very helpful to have a person who is just interested in you and your needs advising you on what everything means and helping you make a strategic and resolution, decisions, because at the end of the day, the EEOC investigator works for the EEOC, and most of them want to get a good result for you, but they don’t necessarily have the same level of loyalty to you that your lawyer would have.

Then finally, I would say getting a lawyer involved early is very helpful, because that then helps the lawyer understand your case and build your case along with the EEOC. As I said, by far and away the vast majority of cases are not handled by the EEOC ultimately, so if you want to get a result, most likely at some point you’re going to have to hire a lawyer, and so you might as well go ahead and do that at the earliest possible moment so that the lawyer can help start adding value from the very, very first day. If you make some bad choices early on, that can affect your ability to get the best settlement or the best verdict down the road, and so a good lawyer can help you anticipate that and deal with it at different junctures of your claim.

Well, we could talk for hours and hours about the EEOC and how it works and so forth, but I think this gives you a good idea about the nature and scope of their work and how the EEOC can help you. The one last thing I’ll leave you with, and we did a whole show on wrongful termination where we kind of discussed this, but again, this just shows you how kind of narrow the lanes are in employment law. The EEOC is only interested in federal law. There are many state law components that have their own state anti-discrimination laws. Some are very, very robust. Some are not very robust, so you need to understand what the state law is in your particular state, and understand that in many cases, filing an EEOC complaint, while it complies with the federal statute of limitations, very frequently does not toll or stop the statute of limitations on your state law claims.

That’s another reason to get a lawyer involved very quickly, because very often the state laws have different remedies, different money amounts you can get, than under the federal law, so it’s good to understand that, that the EEOC’s going to talk about sex, and race, and religion, age, national origin, and disability discrimination, harassment and retaliation, but it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Family and Medical Leave Act, the wage and hour laws, overtime, minimum wage, OSHA discrimination or other kinds of retaliation for engaging in whistle-blowing activity or certain other activity. Again, that’s another reason why my advice always is, seek out a good employment lawyer as soon as you believe that you may have a problem, and that person can then help you navigate the landscape and make sure that you go into the right place and, if nothing else, it’ll save you a bunch of time.

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