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EEOC — a Black Hole?

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In most jurisdictions (DC excluded), the filing of what is known as an “administrative complaint” is a prerequisite to filing a discrimination lawsuit. The administrative complaint process, in theory, is supposed to result in an investigation of the claim and an opportunity to conciliate the complaint through alternate dispute resolution, such as mediation.

Unfortunately, the administrative complaint process is very often (but not always) flawed, at best. Many complaints filed at the Baltimore field office (where complainants of discrimination in Maryland are filed) are now frequently farmed out to other field offices across the country, which can cause delay and other procedural issues. Other complaints are not investigated and simply sit idle at the EEOC with no action at all. Fortunately, but only after waiting 6 months, the complaining party can request a “Right to Sue” notice from the EEOC and proceed with the filing of a lawsuit.

I have had some positive experiences with EEOC filings — but have had some bad ones as well. Most memorable involves a case I handled for a federal employee with the FDA. In this case, I was hired to represent the employee in a failure to promote case in a hearing before the Chief Administrative Judge of the EEOC. After a multi-day hearing at the Agency, the parties submitted written closing arguments to the judge and awaited the decision. That hearing took place during the summer of 2009. Now, more than 5 years later, the parties are STILL waiting for a decision.

Fortunately, there are some benefits that are provided during the EEO process. However, I tell this story to all of my federal sector clients who are considering filing an EEO claim so they know what to expect.