What Is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency responsible for enforcing federal laws regarding discrimination or harassment against a job applicant or an employee in the United States. The EEOC was formed by Congress to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 52 other field offices throughout the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination brought against employers.
  • It was created by Congress in 1964 to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Companies are subject to the law if they have 15 or more employees.

How the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Works

There are a number of federal laws that together make it illegal to discriminate because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. In addition, it is against the law to discriminate against a person who complains about discrimination, who has filed a charge of discrimination, or who has participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. Indeed, business ethics have changed considerably since the turbulent 1960s first roiled their relatively placid waters.

On June 15, 2020, in a 6-3 ruling in Bostock vs. Clayton County, Georgia, the Supreme Court determined that protections against discrimination by sex in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect LGBTQ workers. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who wrote the opinion, stated: “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

So what does the EEOC do, exactly? It is vested with the authority to investigate any charges of discrimination brought against employers, who are generally subject to EEOC laws if they have at least 15 employees (in the case of age discrimination that rises to 20). Many labor unions and employment agencies fall under its jurisdiction as well. The EEOC also seeks to prevent discrimination before it can occur through education and technical assistance programs.

The laws enforced by the EEOC apply to all types of work situations, processes, and functions. This includes the hiring and termination of employees, harassment among the staff or management, job training, promotions, wages, and benefits.

Employers are liable for both their own behavior and that of their staff members, even including independent contractors.

Examples of EEOC Jurisdiction

The EEOC may specifically investigate not only employers for violations but also members of their staff accused of engaging in harassment or discrimination. For example, if a manager refuses to interview or hire qualified job candidates solely because of their ethnicity or race, then the employer can be held accountable for allowing racist behavior to persist. This can also be applied to employers who permit harassment to continue unchecked. Companies can even be held liable for independent contractors who act on their behalf.

The EEOC has filed lawsuits against companies where corrective action was not taken after derogatory slurs, threats, assaults, unwanted sexual comments, or inappropriate touching occurred in the workplace. Companies can also be penalized for not warning employees about past misconduct committed by another employee or manager with whom they are directed to work.

EEOC lawsuits might seek monetary damages, including punitive and compensatory damages and injunctive relief. In fiscal year 2018, the EEOC received 76,418 charges of workplace discrimination, with 10% those claims being allegations of sexual harassment, a 13.6% increase from 2017.

The EEOC is open to attempts to settle cases before the issue is investigated and possibly taken to trial. It offers a mediation procedure, an informal process in which two parties can work with a neutral mediator to see if they can reach a reconciliation of their differences. The mediator doesn’t ultimately make a determination, however, serving only to help the two parties reach a settlement on their own. If mediation fails, then the EEOC proceeds to formally investigate the complaint.