The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is the federal agency charged with administering and enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. But whether – and how – to file a complaint (or "charge") of discrimination with the EEOC is a source of confusion for many Maryland employees facing workplace discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. These federal laws include, among others, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
Generally, employment discrimination laws require that you first try to settle your discrimination complaint by going through the administrative complaint process at either the EEOC or, for Maryland employees, the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights before you file a lawsuit. In other words, you generally cannot go directly to court—you have to start with the EEOC. This is known as "exhausting" your administrative remedies. A notable exception is The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which does not require you to file with the EEOC.
For most employment discrimination or retaliation cases, you generally cannot go directly to court—you have to start with the EEOC.
So, how exactly do you file a complaint of discrimination with the EEOC? The first thing to keep in mind is that you must file your complaint within the statute of limitation (i.e., time limit). For most Maryland employees, the filing deadline is 300 days from the date the discrimination or retaliation took place. Note: if you miss this deadline, you may still have options under Maryland state laws, so contact a Maryland employment lawyer as soon as possible.
Most complaints to the EEOC must be filed within 300 days of the discrimination or retaliation.
The easiest way to start the complaint filing process with the EEOC is via their online public portal, which guides you through the process. You can also file a complaint in person or via mail. However, a common misconception is that submitting the EEOC's online inquiry form constitutes filing a complaint. But a "formal complaint" at the EEOC is only technically filed after you've signed your EEOC Form 5, which, if you don't yet have an employment lawyer, the EEOC will often insist on drafting for you. Here's a rule of thumb—you haven't actually "filed" your EEOC complaint until you've signed something prepared by either your lawyer or an EEOC investigator.
Submitting the online "inquiry" form doesn't count as a complaint. Your complaint is technically filed until you've signed an EEOC Form 5.
This process is meant to be helpful, but, in practicality, can results in delays and poorly worded (or even incomplete) EEOC complaints, which can cause you headaches down the line. It's generally better (and often faster) to have a Maryland employment lawyer draft and submit your EEOC complaint on your behalf.
Once your complaint is formally filed, the EEOC will notify your employer that you've filed a complaint within 10 days, and your employer will file a position statement responding to your claims. Often, the EEOC will attempt to have the parties mediate the case.
Maryland Commission on Civil Rights
The EEOC is not your only option to "exhaust" your administrative remedies. The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, or MCCR, is Maryland's state version of the EEOC. The MCCR investigates alleged discrimination and alleged harassment under Maryland's employment discrimination statutes, such as Title 20. Any Maryland employee or independent contractor who claims to have been a victim of discrimination or harassment may file a complaint with the MCCR.
Any complaint filed with the MCCR is automatically "cross filed" or "dual filed" with the EEOC, and vice versa—meaning you only need to file your complaint with one of these agencies.
Complaints filed with either the EEOC or MCCR are automatically "cross filed" with the other agency.
Until just recently, you only had 180 days to file a complaint with the MCCR. As of October 2021, however, you have up to 300 days from the date of the discrimination to file a complaint with the MCCR, matching the EEOC.
Lastly, some Maryland counties (such as Montgomery County) have their own, local civil rights agencies you can file with.
So—which agency should you file your complaint with? Ultimately, it's up to you. As your complaint will be "cross filed" between both the EEOC and MCCR, it often comes down to personal preference. However, as of the date of this blog post (January 2021), we'll note that the MCCR is severely understaffed, and as a result, you're likely to wait several months before the MCCR assigns an investigator to your case.
Whether you need to file with the EEOC, MCCR, or a local agency, a Maryland employment lawyer can help guide you through the process, and ensure that you meet the strict deadlines and requirements of each agency. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation with a Maryland employment lawyer.