The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that enforces laws to protect employees and job applicants from discrimination. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the EEOC is required to disclose agency records to the public, unless the record is protected under one of nine exemptions.
More than 16,000 FOIA information requests are submitted to the EEOC each year. Requests are typically made by individuals and attorneys who are involved in an employer discrimination case. The EEOC recently launched a new software system that is expected to make submitting and tracking FOIA requests easier.
- The EEOC receives more than 16,000 FOIA requests for agency records each year.
- If a requested record falls into an exemption category, the EEOC is not required to release it.
- In 2021 the EEOC developed new software to improve the FOIA request process.
What Is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
The FOIA gives U.S. citizens the right to request information from the federal government. It is one of the sunshine laws, which were put in place to ensure transparency and disclosure in government and business. The FOIA only applies to federal agency records; states have their own laws about accessing state and local records.
FOIA Requests to the EEOC
Many documents are readily available on the EEOC’s website and FOIA public reference room, including annual reports, statistical reports, and compliance manuals. However, if an individual is looking for a record that is not readily available, they may submit a FOIA request in writing.
Anyone can submit a FOIA request to the EEOC, including individuals, corporations, organizations, associations, and governments. Requests are often made by individuals and attorneys who are involved with an employee discrimination case.
For example, if someone wants to file a discrimination lawsuit against their employer, they must first file a charge with the EEOC. The employment litigator who is involved with the case may want to access records related to the charge filed. In this case the litigator can make a FOIA request to obtain the records.
How to Make an FOIA Request to the EEOC
The EEOC requires that you make FOIA requests in writing and that you reasonably describe the records you are requesting. This means providing as much information about the record as possible, so that the agency can easily identify it. For example, you should include the date, location, subject, names, and charge or complaint numbers. There is no particular form or format, but the request and its cover must be clearly labeled as a FOIA request.
You can submit FOIA requests by mail or online. Certain types of investigative employment discrimination records, as well as records that pertain to a particular district office, must be sent to the corresponding district director. Other requests are sent directly to EEOC headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In February 2021 the EEOC released a new software system, replacing an existing six-year-old system. According to the EEOC, the new software system makes submitting and tracking FOIA requests and appeals easier for the user. You can monitor requests and appeals online and communicate with the EEOC and exchange documents through the system.
There is also an option to submit a request or an appeal by mail, email, or fax. These requests are entered into the new system by an EEOC staff member after they are received. All FOIA requests, even those submitted prior to the launch, can be accessed using the new system.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EEOC FOIA staff are all teleworking, so FOIA requests should not be made by mail, fax, or courier, as staff does not have access to those delivery methods.
How Long Do Requests Take?
The EEOC sends an acknowledgement letter within 10 calendar days of receiving a FOIA request. The letter includes an expected response date, a FOIA tracking number, and contact information.
Once the EEOC reviews your request, it may contact you to clarify or resolve any issues it finds. After the request is “perfected,” the EEOC could take up to 20 business days to respond. Your requested records will be released in part or in full, or the EEOC may decide to withhold the records. In some cases the EEOC may not be able to locate a responsive record.
If your records are withheld, you have 90 calendar days from the receipt of the determination to submit an appeal. The EEOC will typically respond to an appeal within 20 business days, unless it takes an extension. If your appeal is denied, you can request judicial review in a federal district court.
In most cases the EEOC is required to disclose any agency record that you request. However, it will not create a new record, conduct research or analysis, or answer questions in response to a FOIA request.Also, the EEOC is not required to release records that fall into one of the following nine exemption categories:
- The information is classified to protect national security.
- The information is exclusively related to an agency’s internal personnel rules and practices.
- Another federal law prohibits the agency from disclosing the information.
- The information references business trade secrets or other confidential commercial or financial information.
- Attorney–work product privilege, attorney-client privilege, deliberative process privilege, presidential communications privilege, or another legal privilege protects the information.
- Disclosing the information would invade an individual’s personal privacy.
- The information is requested for law enforcement purposes and, if released, would induce harm or interfere with proceedings, investigations, or prosecutions.
- The information concerns the supervision of financial institutions.
- The request concerns geological information on wells.
If the information is not exempt from disclosure, the agency is required to provide the records within 20 business days.
Section 83 Requests
Certain requests for charge files may be submitted as a Section 83 request instead of a FOIA request. Section 83 requests are typically processed faster than FOIA requests, but they may not be as useful. For example, unlike responses received from a FOIA request, the EEOC does not provide information as to why information is withheld from a Section 83 request. Additionally, you cannot appeal the EEOC’s decision to withhold information.
The Bottom Line
Under the FOIA you may request records from the EEOC that are related to employer discrimination issues. It’s not always a quick process, but the EEOC has introduced new technology to make FOIA requests, appeals, and correspondence easier.