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Where Should I File My Charge, Does It Make A Difference?

There are several factors to consider in determining where best to file a charge.  These factors include the type of discrimination, the length of time that the discrimination was ongoing, the date of the last incident of discrimination, the nature of damages incurred, and whether a jury trial is sought.  In addition, one must consider the cost of litigating in the various courts and administrative agencies.  Generally, the federal court is the most expensive forum whereas agencies such as the Chicago Commission on Human Relations are the least expensive.

The EEOC generally accepts charges that are filed within 300 days of the discrimination complained of.  Most of the other agencies require that charges be filed 180 days from the discriminatory action. Charges that are filed with the EEOC are likely to be litigated in federal court. After investigation, the EEOC issues a right-to-sue letter which permits the litigant to file suit in federal court within 90 days of receiving the letter. Federal court litigation can be expensive because of the various required court filings fees.  In addition, the rules permit expensive discovery methods such as depositions, witness subpoenas and other extensive written discovery.  Federal cases are typically tried in front of a jury and the judges enforce strict deadlines on litigants. Federal law permits litigants to obtain a broader range of damages such as compensatory damages and punitive damages as well as backpay, reinstatement, lost benefits and other all damages that resulted from the discrimination.  Punitive and compensatory damages are capped depending on the number of employees that the employer has.  Title VII damages against the largest employer is capped at $300,000. 

The other administrative agencies such as the Illinois Department of Human Rights, Cook Country Commission on Human Relations and Chicago Commission on Human Relations require that charges be filed within 180 days of the discrimination.  They also accept a broader range of discrimination cases than the EEOC such as discrimination based on sexual orientation, financial status, arrest record, parental status, and such others.  Charges that are filed with these agencies are litigated in front an Administrative Law Judge.  No jury trial is available. 

The potential damages to be recovered are limited when compared to cases brought in federal court.  Generally, punitive damages are not awarded by these agencies and awards for mental anguish can be limited.  However, these agencies award a full range of backpay, reinstatement and reimbursements for any lost benefits..  The key advantage of these agencies lies in the fact that they cover a broader range of discrimination and that litigation costs are minimal.  These agencies typically charge no filing fees and allow depositions only in special circumstances. Discovery tools are  limited to interrogatories, requests to admit, and production requests.  Cases that have high backpay damages with minimal claims of punitive and compensatory damages are well suited for these agencies.  Cases with significant potential for compensatory and punitive damages potential that require a jury trial are best suited for federal court.