By: Gregory C. Sinning, Esq. & Joshua C. Black, Esq.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), is a government watchdog agency whose primary directive is to investigate claims of discrimination or mistreatment in the workplace.
Starting March 21, 2020, the EEOC quietly implemented a policy that temporarily suspended issuing “Notice of Right to Sue” letters to employees, thus limiting an employee’s ability to file a lawsuit against their employer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission?
The EEOC is a federal agency tasked with investigating claims that an employer has violated employee rights under certain federal anti-discrimination laws.
Generally, if an employee feels they are a victim of mistreatment based upon the employee’s race, gender, religion, age, or disability the employee can file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. This Charge provides the EEOC a brief description of the discriminatory events. The EEOC generally takes this information and begins an investigation. Once the investigation is completed, the EEOC issues a “Notice of Right to Sue” letter to the employee.
What is a Notice of Right to Sue letter?
After the EEOC has finalized its investigation a letter called "Notice of Right to Sue" is issued to the employee. The letter informs the employee that the EEOC process has concluded and the employee now has a right to sue their employer.
Receiving a Notice of Right to Sue letter from the EEOC is a prerequisite before an employee can file a lawsuit against an employer on these types of discrimination claims. Once this letter is provided to an employee, the employee must file a lawsuit against their employer within 90 days of receiving that notice. If the employee fails to file a lawsuit by the end of that 90 days, the employee loses the rights to sue the employer.
What changed regarding the Notice of Right to Sue?
Starting March 21, 2020, the EEOC quietly implemented a policy that temporarily suspends issuing Notice of Right to Sue letters. In an email dated April 7, 2020, the EEOC confirmed that it had in fact paused issuing key notices that would start the clock for employees to sue their employers. The EEOC further stated that if an employee wishes to receive a Notice of Right to Sue letter, the employee may still request it and one will be manually issued. However, the EEOC cautioned this may be against the employee’s best interest.
The EEOC justified the temporary suspension of providing the Notice of Right to Sue letter by stating that many court houses are currently closed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Ceasing the issuance of the letters from the EEOC will limit the court filings being made by employees and the potential need for employees to appear in court, thus preventing the need for employees to put themselves at unnecessary risk of either contracting or spreading COVID-19. By suspending the issuance of charge closure documents the EEOC is giving workers a temporary reprieve from their deadline to file employment discrimination lawsuits during the global pandemic.
What can I do?
Although the EEOC is hitting pause on the closure of investigations, it is still accepting new charges of bias, discrimination, or harassment. The EEOC stated it will now start to track charges involving bias, discrimination, or harassment related to COVID-19.
If you have been discriminated against at work and are unsure whether you need to file with the EEOC, or if you have filed and are unsure if you need to request a Notice of Right to Sue letter, please reach out to a competent employment attorney to assess your unique situation.
For additional information or questions, the authors can be reached at the Law Office of Joshua Black, PLC at 623-738-2225.
For more information about the EEOC and COVID-19 please visit: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/eeoc-continues-to-serve.cfm