Employment Law: What is a Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC?

In most federal employment discrimination cases, before an employee can file a lawsuit against his or her employer, the employee is required to exhaust administrative avenues by filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Once the complaint is filed, the employer is on notice that any negative actions against the employee could create a further charge of illegal retaliation.

Right to Sue letter from EEOC

Many employees find the idea of suing an employer too intimidating to pursue or assume the process is as simple as filing a lawsuit. Here’s more on the process and when it’s time to call a lawyer.

Once the charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate the alleged discrimination. They will contact the employer for more information and allow the employer to respond prior to making a decision in the case. There are three outcomes from an EEOC investigation:

  1. The EEOC finds some basis for the claim of discrimination and will attempt to schedule a mediation between the parties.
  2. In rare cases, where the action of the employer is seen to be egregious, the EEOC may file a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf.
  3. The EEOC closes the case and issues a Dismissal and Notice of Rights. This is commonly known as a Right to Sue letter.

The issuance of a Right to Sue letter means that the EEOC either did not uncover any evidence of discrimination from their investigation, or does not have the resources to pursue litigation despite finding some evidence of discrimination. This is not a legal determination but an administrative conclusion.

There are times when the employee sees the letter and thinks that the EEOC is telling them they should sue. That is not the case. The EEOC is not predicting any legal outcome, nor is it necessarily making a judgment. Instead, the EEOC is notifying the claimant of the results of their finding which did not discover evidence of the alleged discrimination or did discover evidence but pursuing the issue further is outside the scope of the EEOC.

So, if someone receives a Right to Sue letter, what does that mean he or she should do? The first step should be to speak with an experienced Employment Discrimination attorney as soon as possible after receiving the Right to Sue letter.

If the employee wants to move forward with a case against the employer, he or she must file suit within ninety (90) days from the date the EEOC issues the Right to Sue letter.  An employment attorney who understands the EEOC process and who is familiar with the relevant law can review the facts of the case and advise the employee on his or her best course of action.