The EEOC Sexual Harassment Complaint Process

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  • 1:32 EEOC Intake Interview
  • 2:01 Jurisdictional Determination
  • 2:47 EEOC Offer of Mediation
  • 3:20 Investigation
  • 4:23 Reasonable Cause Determination
  • 5:06 Conciliation and…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Employees have a right to file a charge of harassment or discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In this lesson, you'll learn about the complaint process and possible results. A short quiz follows.

Filing a Charge

Meet Miranda. She works on the assembly line for a small computer chip-manufacturing firm. Luke, the plant's production manager, has constantly been sexually harassing Miranda. Since Luke happens to be the son of the firm's owner, HR has refused to take any steps to stop the harassment.

Miranda has had enough and decides to file a charge of sexual harassment against her employer with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is responsible for the enforcement of sexual harassment law and investigating charges of harassment. Let's follow Miranda through the process.

Miranda makes an appointment with her local EEOC office to file a charge. Unfortunately, she cannot file a charge by phone or through the Internet. However, the EEOC allows filing a charge by mail, if the following information is included:

  • Name, address, and telephone number of the charging party; that's Miranda, in this case
  • Name, address, and telephone number of the employer
  • Number of employees employed by employer, if known
  • A description of the events and facts that support the allegation of sexual harassment or discrimination
  • The date of the events
  • If the charge is based on discrimination, the nature of the discrimination, such as race, sex, national origin, or religion
  • The signature of the charging party

EEOC Intake Interview

In Miranda's case, she arrives for her appointment. As recommended by the EEOC, she comes with names of witnesses as well as relevant documents, such as all the offensive emails sent to her by Luke. Miranda hasn't hired a lawyer, but if she did, she has a right to bring her attorney along to help. The EEOC staff member collects the information required for the charge through an intake questionnaire, and Miranda will sign it upon review and completion.

Jurisdictional Determination

The EEOC must have jurisdiction to investigate the charge and make a determination. Jurisdiction is the legitimate authority to determine and apply the law in a given circumstance. In cases of sexual harassment, the EEOC only has jurisdiction if the employer employs 15 or more employees, and the actions or conduct giving rise to the charge happened no more than 180 days from the time the charge is filed. If the EEOC doesn't have jurisdiction, the charge will be dismissed. It's important to note, however, that a dismissal on jurisdictional grounds doesn't mean sexual harassment has not occurred; it just means the EEOC doesn't have power to do anything.

EEOC Offer of Mediation

Miranda receives a copy of her charge and her employer will receive a copy of it within 10 days. The EEOC sometimes offers to mediate the dispute before a formal investigation commences. Mediation is an alternative disputes resolution system where a neutral third party, the mediator, attempts to help the parties reach a settlement on their own. Mediation is voluntary. While mediation is offered in Miranda's case, neither she nor her employer wants to do it. Thus, the investigation commences.


Since mediation is off the table, Miranda's employer will submit an answer to her charge of discrimination to the EEOC. Aside from reviewing the employer's answer, the EEOC will usually perform some level of independent investigation of the charge based upon the unique circumstances of each charge. It may request documents from the employer, inspect the employer's premises, and interview witnesses.

Miranda's employer really wants to protect Larry, since he's the owner's son. So, it pretty much refuses to provide certain documents requested by the EEOC. If the employer is unwilling to present documents, permit inspection of the employer's facilities, or produce the requested witnesses for interview, the EEOC has the power to compel the production of the documents, inspection of facilities, and procurement of testimony through its administrative subpoena power. Upon receiving a subpoena and upon advice of a newly-retained attorney, the company coughs up the records.

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