What Is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?

EEOC on Unlawful Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers and Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
••• US Department of Labor/Flickr

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency charged with enforcing laws prohibiting job discrimination.

The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination and attempts to settle them when discrimination is found. If charges can’t be settled, the EEOC may file a lawsuit on behalf of the individual or the general public. (However, the agency notes, “We do not, however, file lawsuits in all cases where we find discrimination.”)

In addition to investigating complaints and dealing with charges of discrimination, the EEOC conducts outreach programs to prevent future cases of discrimination. The EEOC is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 53 field offices throughout the United States. 

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Legislation covered by the EEOC include laws that prohibit discrimination, provide for equal pay, and mandate equal access to employment for qualified individuals with disabilities. These laws include:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Federal contractors and subcontractors must take affirmative action to ensure equal access to employment without considering race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Employers are prohibited from discrimination in any phase of employment including hiring, recruiting, pay, termination, and promotions.

Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, as well as colleges and universities (both public and private), employment agencies, and labor organizations such as unions.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers

According to the EEOC, the EEOC interpretation of Title VII provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sex includes any acts of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Prohibitions will be enforced regardless of any state or local statutes to the contrary. 

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination.

Employers are prohibited from offering a lower wage to women (or men) if another man (or woman) is doing the same work at a higher wage. Labor organizations or their agents are also prohibited from influencing employers to offer different levels of pay to male and female employees.

The EPA is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which it amends to prohibit wage discrimination based on sex.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which codified into law the EEOC’s stance that each inequitable paycheck is a separate incident of wage discrimination. In practice, the Act extended the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits in cases of pay discrimination based on sex, race, national origin, age, religion, and disability.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older. The ADEA applies to organizations with 20 or more workers, including governmental entities, labor organizations, and employment agencies.

Employers are allowed to give preference to older workers over younger ones (even if those younger workers are age 40 or older). Further, the ADEA does not protect workers younger than age 40 from employment discrimination based on age.

So, if you work in an age-obsessed industry, are less than 40 years old, but think you’re being discriminated against based on age, the ADEA’s protections wouldn’t apply to your case.

Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments.

Title I covers employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against people with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, compensation, job training, and other employment conditions. Title I also applies to labor organizations and employment agencies.

Title V contains various provisions related to Title I and other Titles of the ADA. For example, Title V specifies that the ADA doesn’t override other federal, state, or local laws that provide equal or greater protection than the Act.

It also specifies that people who engage in illegal drug use are not covered by the ADA.

Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government, as well laying out specifications about legal remedies and attorneys’ fees.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991, which, among other things, provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination. It also amends several EEOC statutes, allowing for example jury trials and potential damages in Title VII and ADA lawsuits involving intentional discrimination.

EEOC Oversight and Enforcement

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces all of these laws and provides oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies

State Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions

Additional oversight and in some cases additional protections are provided by human rights agencies at the state level. Individuals who believe their rights have been violated might also consult with these agencies for redress to their grievances. States can add additional legal protections but are not permitted to negate any of the protections provided through the EEOC.