Calculating Your Time Limits

This section deals only with charges of discrimination filed against private employers, unions, and State and local government agencies. Complaints against Federal agency employers follow a completely different set of rules and time limits.

A “deferral agency” is a State or local fair employment practices agency that has power to investigate and proceed on violations of a State or local law forbidding employment discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability. A “referral agency” is the same, but it handles age discrimination claims. Go here for EEOC’s list of deferral agencies and referral agencies as of August 17, 2005.

Your time for filing a charge of discrimination or retaliation depends on whether the unlawful action took place in a State or local area where there is a deferral or referral agency with respect to your kind of problem.

If there is no deferral or referral agency with respect to your type of discrimination or retaliation, you have 180 calendar days from the date of the discrimination or retaliation to file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is less than six months.

If there is a deferral agency, you have 300 calendar days from the date of the discrimination or retaliation to file a charge of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability discrimination or retaliation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, you must say on your charge of discrimination that you want the charge to be filed with the State or local agency as well. This is not the same as ten months.

If there is an age discrimination or retaliation charge filed with a State or local referral agency, you must file a charge of discrimination or retaliation with the EEOC within 300 calendar days after the discriminatory action, or within 30 calendar days after receipt of notice of termination of State proceedings, whichever is earlier. Worksharing agreements between the EEOC and the State or local agency can help sort this out, where they exist.

Contacting the EEOC is not the same thing as filing a charge. It sometimes takes the EEOC months to get its act together and send you a charge of discrimination to sign. Do not delay. Many attorneys have blank copies of charge forms, and can help you fill out the charge properly and meet the deadline. Do not delay. Here are the contents of the EEOC Charges of Discrimination.

An attorney can prepare a charge of discrimination for you and send it to the EEOC. That can save months. If the EEOC refuses to accept a charge drafted by an attorney, you can file what is called a “mandamus” action, to require the EEOC to perform its duty in accepting the charge.

You can send a letter to the EEOC identifying the employer or employment agency or union that you think discriminated against you, describing the discriminatory actions, giving their approximate dates, sign it stating that it is signed “subject to the penalties for perjury,” and stating that you regard the letter as a charge of discrimination. There is a little more risk in this approach, but you should do it if it is necessary to meet the deadline.

Recommended approach if you cannot get a formal charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC in time: You can also go to a local or State fair employment practices agency that the EEOC recognizes as a deferral or referral agency with respect to your type of discrimination, and file a charge of discrimination with it. You must specify on the charge that you also want it to be filed with the EEOC. The EEOC has worksharing agreements with many or all of these State or local agencies, and the agreements normally state that each agency acts on behalf of the other in accepting charges. Many attorneys have blank copies of charge forms, and can help you fill out the charge properly and meet the deadline.