Discrimination in the workplace should never be tolerated. When unlawful discrimination is a deciding factor in hiring, firing, promotion, demotion, relocation, compensation, benefits, or employee discipline, you have the right to file a complaint at the federal level with the EEOC or at the state level with the Civil Rights Division of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. You also have the right to file a civil lawsuit to seek additional damages and compensation from the offending employer.
What is The EEOC?
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is charged with enforcing federal workplace discrimination laws. The EEOC investigates cases where an employer discriminates against an employee or job applicant on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, genetic information, or age (for individuals who are 40 or older). Such cases typically involve sexual harassment or unfair practices in hiring, termination, promotions, training, or compensation.
The EEOC also investigates cases where an employer retaliates against an employee or job applicant because the individual complained about discrimination, filed a workplace discrimination charge, or otherwise participated in a workplace discrimination lawsuit or investigation. This is commonly referred to as whistleblower protection.
Most federal employment laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees, so the EEOC is unable to investigate small companies with fewer than 15 employees. The age discrimination law only applies to companies with 20 or more employees, so the bar is slightly higher for cases involving age discrimination.
How to File an EEOC Claim
When you file a claim with the EEOC, you’ll be signing a statement asserting that an organization violated federal workplace discrimination laws. It’s a charge of discrimination requesting the EEOC take remedial action. This is a critical step, as you cannot file a lawsuit for unlawful discrimination until you file a charge with the EEOC.
The easiest way to file an EEOC claim is to file the charge online. You’ll need to submit an online inquiry and schedule an interview with the Phoenix field office. During the interview, you’ll have an opportunity to present your case against the organization charged with workplace discrimination. If the case officer believes there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation, he or she will draft a Charge of Discrimination for you to sign and formally launch an investigation.
You are permitted to bring someone with you to the EEOC interview, including an Arizona employment attorney. You don’t need an attorney to file an EEOC claim, but it certainly helps to work with an attorney who can assist you in building a strong case against the organization.
TIme is of the essence, as you only have 180 days from the date of the workplace discrimination incident to file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. The only exception is in cases where there is a similar state or local law that prohibits workplace discrimination on the same basis. In that case, the deadline is extended to 300 calendar days after the incident in question.
Remedies for Workplace Discrimination
When an EEOC investigation discovers enough evidence to warrant a charge against the organization, the goal is to rectify the situation so that the victim ends in a position as if the discrimination never occurred. The forms of relief will depend on the discriminatory action and the effect it had on the victim, and may include job placement, mandatory promotion, back pay, and benefits.
In addition to recovering court costs, attorney’s fees, and expert witness fees, the victim may also be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages in cases involving intentional discrimination based on disability, religion, race, color, national origin, genetic information, gender, gender identity, pregnancy, or sexual orientation. Compensatory damages may include restitution for out-of-pocket expenses related to job search and medical expenses, and compensation for emotional suffering. Punitive damages may be awarded when an employer commits an especially malicious or reckless act of discrimination.
Cases involving intentional age discrimination or gender-based wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act do not permit compensatory or punitive damages, but they do allow for liquidated damages. Such damages may be awarded to punish malicious or reckless acts of discrimination, and may provide up to the amount of back pay awarded to the victim.
Finally, the employer will be required to halt any discriminatory practices and take steps to prevent future acts of discrimination. Failure to comply with these may result in fines and penalties for the employer.
Arizona Civil Rights Act
Employees in Arizona are also protected against workplace discrimination through the Arizona Civil Rights Act. Employers are prohibited against discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, veteran status, family medical leave, and pregnancy (ARS 41-1463). Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees engaged in protected activities, including filing a discrimination complaint, participating in an investigation, or participating in a discrimination lawsuit.
In addition to the Arizona Civil Rights Act, a number of cities and towns have enacted local ordinances prohibiting other forms of workplace discrimination. For example, Phoenix and Tucson prohibit discrimination on the basis of marital status, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Tucson also prohibits discrimination based on familial status.
Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Civil Rights Division
The Civil Rights Division (CRD) of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office is tasked with enforcing civil rights laws, providing dispute resolution services, increasing public awareness of civil rights, and offering community services throughout Arizona. Their duty is to investigate civil rights complaints and enforce Arizona’s statutes that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, disability, public accomodations, and voting. The CRD offers mediation programs and conflict resolution services across the state, including a number of court and agency programs.
While investigating complaints is a top priority, the CRD actively addresses discriminatory activity through educational awareness programs. The CRD conducts surveys and inquiries to eliminate discrimination in Arizona, and publishes a variety of reports to highlight key civil rights issues for citizens and lawmakers.
If you are the victim of workplace discrimination in Arizona and would like to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, you can fill out the Civil Rights Intake Questionnaire online. Upon receiving your complaint, a CRD representative should reach out to you within 24 hours. You must file a complaint within 180 days of the incident in question, or your claim will be rejected.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.