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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Filing a Formal Complaint

If you decide to file a discrimination complaint, you must do so within 15 days from the day you received notice from your EEO Counselor about how to file a complaint.  This notice is sent to you after your final interview with the EEO Counselor.  You must file your complaint at the same EEO Office where you received counseling.  The 15-day deadline for filing a complaint is calculated in calendar days starting the day after you receive the notice.  If the 15th calendar day falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or federal holiday, then the last day of the deadline is the next business day.  The agency is required to give you a reasonable amount of time during work hours to prepare the complaint.  If you feel that you have not been given a reasonable amount of time, contact the agency’s EEO Director or EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations.

What to Include in the Formal Complaint

Your discrimination complaint must contain the following:

  • Your name, address, and telephone number;
  • A short description of the events that you believe were discriminatory (for example, you were terminated, demoted, harassed);
  • Why you believe you were discriminated against (for example, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability,  genetic information or retaliation);
  • A short description of any injury you suffered; and
  • Your signature (or your lawyer’s signature).

Once Formal Complaint is filed

After your complaint is filed, the agency will send you a letter letting you know it received your complaint. The agency will also review the complaint and decide whether your case should be dismissed for a procedural reason (for example, your claim was filed too late). If the agency doesn’t dismiss your complaint, it will investigate it. If the agency does dismiss your complaint, you will receive information about how to appeal the dismissal. Should the agency dismiss your complaint without an investigation, you have 30 days from the day you receive the agency's dismissal to appeal.

In some cases, an agency will dismiss only part of the complaint and continue processing the rest. In this situation, you must wait until the agency issues its final order on all the claims in your complaint before appealing the partial dismissal.

Investigation of Complaint

The agency has 180 days from the day you filed your complaint to finish its investigation.  The investigation may be extended by another 180 days if new events are added to your complaint or if you file new complaints that must be added to your original complaint for investigation.  You also have the right to agree to an extension of up to 90 days.

When the investigation is finished, the agency will give you two choices:  either request a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge or ask the agency to issue a decision as to whether discrimination occurred.

If more than 180 days pass and the agency has not yet finished its investigation, you can wait for the agency to complete its investigation, ask for a hearing, or file a lawsuit in federal district court.  Once you ask for a hearing, the complaint will be handled by an EEOC Administrative Judge.

The Role of the Agency Investigator

The role of the agency investigator is to gather information related to your complaint.  Agency investigators do not decide your case.  Instead, they are responsible for gathering the evidence needed to decide whether you were discriminated against.

Reaching a Voluntary Settlement

At any time during the complaint process, the agency can offer to settle your complaint.   You are not required to accept a settlement offer.

If you and the agency settle your complaint, it will be dismissed and no further action will be taken. Both you and the agency will be required to do what you promised to do in the agreement.

If the Agency Does Not Comply with the Settlement

If an agency does not comply in some way with the terms of your settlement agreement, notify the agency’s EEO Director.  You have 30 days from the day you first learned of the agency’s failure to comply to give the EEO Director this notice.

The agency must respond to you in writing to try and settle the conflict. If the agency does not respond, or if you are not satisfied with the agency’s response, you can appeal to EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations for a decision about whether the agency has complied with the terms of the settlement agreement. You must file your appeal within 30 days from the day you receive the agency’s response or, if the agency does not respond, after 35 days have passed from the day you notified the agency’s EEO Director of the agency’s failure to comply. You must give the agency a copy of your appeal. The agency will then have 30 days to respond.

Representation During the Complaint Process

Although you don’t have to be represented by a lawyer during the complaint process, you have the right to have a lawyer if you want one.  You can also ask someone who is not a lawyer to represent you, or you can represent yourself.  The EEOC will not represent you during the complaint process, and we will not appoint a lawyer to represent you.

Adding New Events to Your Complaint

If new events that you believe are discriminatory take place after you file your complaint, you can add them to your complaint.  This is called “amending” a complaint. To amend your complaint, you should write the agency’s EEO Office, describe what happened, and ask that the new events be included in your complaint.

After your letter is received, the EEO Office will either add the new events to your complaint or send you to EEO counseling to discuss them with an EEO Counselor.  If you are sent to counseling and the matter cannot be settled there, you have the right to file a new complaint that includes the new events.  The new complaint will later be combined with the original complaint.

Having More Than One Complaint

If you have more than one discrimination complaint against an agency, the agency’s EEO Office must investigate your complaints together.  This is to ensure that they are investigated as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  The EEO Office will notify you before the complaints are combined.