If you have ever been involved in a car accident, have been the victim of medical malpractice or have otherwise had to hold another individual or entity accountable for negligence, you are likely familiar with how personal injury lawsuits work. You, as the individual who has suffered harm, sue the individual or entity whose negligence caused or contributed to that harm. Then you either negotiate a settlement or take the case to trial. It would seem that a worker suing an employer for discrimination would work in roughly the same way. But for better and for worse, it does not.
When a worker becomes the victim of employment discrimination, he or she must generally file a charge of discrimination with a specific federal government agency. That agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will then act in one of several ways. Until your charge of discrimination has been acted upon by the EEOC, you may not file a lawsuit against your employer.
An attorney experienced in workplace discrimination law can aid you in submitting your charge of discrimination. This first step must be done in a timely fashion, as the EEOC imposes time limits for the submission of these charges. Once submitted, the EEOC may ask you to mediate your charge or may investigate it. Once investigated, the EEOC will either grant you a right to sue or the agency will attempt to reach a settlement with your employer on your behalf. If a settlement is not reached, the agency will either file suit or grant you a right to sue.
Please note that there are some exceptions to this general rule and some changes in process for federal employees specifically. Please speak to an attorney about any questions you may have.