If you are being harassed or discriminated against because you belong to a certain protected class, you have rights, and you are not alone. According to 2018 data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from fiscal year 2017.” It is unlawful to discriminate against an individual in the workplace based on their race, religion, disability, age, gender, or sex, among other things. In this current political climate—as a spotlight is finally being shone on decades of silence around sexual discrimination, harassment and assault—knowing how to successfully file a sexual discrimination complaint can dramatically improve your chances of finding justice after a difficult, if not horrific, experience.
All types of discrimination can be unpleasant, but sexual discrimination can be especially traumatizing. To guide you through the process, it’s important that you speak with an experienced employment attorney who specializes in harassment and discrimination claims. The steps below will help you protect your rights and recover damages.
Confront the offender if you feel it is safe to do so
If you have been sexually assaulted or fear for your safety, do not attempt to confront the person who has harmed you. However, if the discrimination is less threatening in nature, the individual may be unaware that his or her actions are making you uncomfortable. This is sometimes the case with inappropriate jokes. If a coworker or supervisor’s actions are making you uncomfortable, ask them to stop. Even if it doesn’t stop, the fact that you put your offender on notice will help if you end up filing a lawsuit in the future. Putting your concerns in writing is especially helpful.
Complain to a supervisor or your HR department
If the unwelcome behavior doesn’t stop, making an internal complaint is your next step. At this point, your employer should follow company policy to investigate the problem. Informing the company of the discrimination also involves them in the process; if it can be shown that the company knew but did not attempt to resolve the problem, they may be liable in addition to the individual who harassed you. Keep in mind that the EEOC considers a broad scope of what constitutes harassment, and knows not every situation will be the same. According to their website:
- The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.
File a complaint with the EEOC
You must do this prior to filing a lawsuit. If the employer was unable or unwilling to resolve the problem, this is your next step. If you believe you have been discriminated against, you have 45 days from the date of discrimination to contact a counselor with the EEOC in the area where you are employed. After your final meeting, the counselor will send you a notice about how to file a complaint. If you decide to do so, you have 15 days from the date you received the notice in which to file your complaint.
Your employer will be notified as soon as you file a complaint with the EEOC
When an employee files a discrimination complaint against his/her employer, the employer is notified of the complaint with 10 days. The employer can then log in to the EEOC’s Respondent Portal to get more information about the charge and the investigation into it. It is not uncommon for employers to resolve the charge through a settlement or mediation.
Seek professional resources
The process above may seem fairly straightforward, but if the rules aren’t followed precisely you may jeopardize your ability to file a lawsuit. According to Ann E. Evanko, an attorney with Hurwitz & Fine, P.C. in Buffalo NY, this is why it is so important for individuals thinking of suing on a complaint of sexual discrimination to hire and consult with an employment lawyer before taking any formal steps to file a complaint.
“A lawyer will do some investigation before filing, will make sure the right forum or court is selected, and will make sure to include, if applicable, other claims that may relate to the primary claim based on sex or gender,” Evanko says. “A lawyer will know how to draft the claim to include all elements that are necessary to sustain or prove it, and present it in a way that is understood and compelling. Most importantly, a lawyer will set the course strategically before crafting the complaint, which is often not done by an individual who is focused on simply filing the complaint. Lawyers look at how the case will develop with anticipated evidentiary documents and witnesses and take the necessary steps ahead of time to preserve evidence for trial. Such evidence is key to engaging in successful mediation or settlement of the claim, or in obtaining a good trial result.”
Going to work and doing your job shouldn’t be a cause for trauma in your life. Along with an attorney, various national and local resources are available for anyone experiencing harassment, bullying, or discrimination on the job.