How To Respond to an EEOC or OCRC Charge of Discrimination

My company has received a charge of discrimination from the EEOC or OCRC.  Now what do I do?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) enforce federal (EEOC) and Ohio’s (OCRC) anti-discrimination laws.  Employees may file a charge with the EEOC/OCRC against their employer alleging sexual harassment or discrimination based on gender/sex (including pregnancy), race, color, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or military status. 

If you receive a charge, take the following steps*:

1.  Call your employment attorney.  (If you only have general business counsel, ask them to refer you to an employment attorney.)  EEOC/OCRC charges may be used as the first step before litigation in the courts.  Any information provided to the EEOC or OCRC may become public record, or at the very least available to the claimant, and that information may be used in a lawsuit against the company.

2.  Inform others only on a “need to know” basis.  Human resources and the employee’s immediate supervisor should be informed.  Supervisors should be reminded to not retaliate against the employee (if still employed) in any way, or to discuss the charge with the employee.

3.  Immediately preserve all documentation.  This includes personnel files, disciplinary documents, internal investigations (if any were done), as well as emails, voice mails, text messages, and other electronically stored information.  Have your IT person disable any auto-delete functions until documents can be secured.

4.  Decide if you want to respond to the charge, or if you want to engage in mediation.

5.  Cooperate with the investigation.  This will include providing requested documents and may also involve an on-site visit by the investigator.  The investigator has the right to speak to employees.

6.  Wait.  You may not hear anything for weeks or months.  You may be asked for more information, or you may just receive a determination in the mail.

7.  Even if the agency reaches a no probable cause finding, or if the charge is settled in mediation, determine if any changes need to be made to avoid future charges of discrimination.

“Best Practices” and Proactive Measures

The best way to avoid charges of discrimination is to be proactive.  Take the following steps:

1.  Have an employee handbook in place, which includes an internal method for reporting complaints of harassment and discrimination.

2.  Enforce your policies consistently and equally.

3.  Document employee infractions – use written documentation for warnings, suspensions and terminations.

4.  Train your supervisors on harassment, discrimination, and enforcement of your policies.

5.  Train your employees on the handbook, to ensure they understand their obligations and know everyone will be treated the same.

* This is a general overview of the process and recommended steps. Actual procedures may differ based on specific nature of the charges. The information in this articleis not, nor is it intended to be, specific legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.