U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Note: Federal employees and job applicants have a different complaint
If you plan to file a lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or retaliation, you first have to file a charge with one of our field offices (unless you plan to bring your lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, which allows you to go directly to court without filing a charge). We will give you what is called a "Notice-of-Right-to- Sue" at the time we dismiss your charge, usually, after completion of an investigation. However, we may dismiss for other reasons, including failure to cooperate in an investigation. This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. Once you receive a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days. We cannot extend this deadline except when the District Director gives the parties a written notice of intent to reconsider before the deadline for filing a lawsuit. If you don't file in time, you may be prevented from going forward with your lawsuit.
If you plan to file an age discrimination lawsuit, you won't need a Notice of Right-to-Sue to file in court. You can file anytime after 60 days have passed from the day you filed your charge (but no later than 90 days after you receive notice that our investigation is concluded). If you plan to file a lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, you don't have to file a charge or obtain a Notice of Right-to-Sue before filing. Rather, you can go directly to court, provided you file your suit within two years from the day the discrimination took place (3 years if the discrimination was willful).
Keep in mind, though, Title VII also makes it illegal to discriminate based on sex in the payment of wages and benefits. If you have an Equal Pay Act claim, there may be advantages to also filing under Title VII. In order to pursue a Title VII claim in court, you must have filed a charge with EEOC and received a Notice of Right-to-Sue.
If you want to file a lawsuit before we have finished our investigation, you can request a Notice of Right-to-Sue. If more than 180 days have passed from the day you filed your charge, we are required by law to give you the notice if you ask for it. If fewer than 180 days have passed, we will only give you the notice if we will be unable to finish our investigation within 180 days. You should request the Notice of Right-to-Sue in writing and send it to the Director of the EEOC office where your charge is filed. Include in your request the names of the parties and, if possible, your charge number. Once you have been given a Notice of the Right-to-Sue, we will close the case and take no further action. So if you want EEOC to continue investigating your charge, don't request the Notice of Right-to-Sue.
EEOC files employment discrimination lawsuits in select cases. When deciding whether to file a lawsuit, we consider several factors, including the seriousness of the violation, the type of legal issues in the case, and the wider impact the lawsuit could have on our efforts to combat workplace discrimination. Because of limited resources, EEOC cannot file a lawsuit in every case where discrimination has been found.
However, the EEOC office where your charge is filed may be able to give you a list of attorneys in your area who handle cases involving employment discrimination.