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Filing a Lawsuit in Federal Court

Generally, the law requires that you first try to settle your discrimination complaint by going through the administrative complaint process before you file a lawsuit. In other words, you generally cannot go directly to court to sue an agency. Rather, you first need to try and resolve your complaint through the administrative complaint process set up by Congress.

Exceptions to Requirements for Filing a Lawsuit

There are two exceptions to this general rule. If your complaint involves age discrimination, you can skip the administrative complaint process altogether and go directly to court (as long as you give EEOC at least 30 days written notice of your intent to go to court). Also, if your claim involves gender-based pay discrimination and you wish to bring an action under the Equal Pay Act, you can skip the administrative complaint process and file a lawsuit anytime within two years of the day the discrimination occurred (three years if the discrimination is 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 an advantage to also filing your claim under Title VII. Before you can pursue a Title VII claim in court, though, you must go through the administrative complaint process.

Points in the Administrative Complaint Process for filing a lawsuit

For all other cases, you must go through the administrative complaint process before you can file a lawsuit. There are several different points during the process; however, when you will have the opportunity to quit the process and file a lawsuit in court, including:

  • After 180 days have passed from the day you filed your complaint, if the agency has not issued a decision and no appeal has been filed
  • Within 90 days from the day you receive the agency’s decision on your complaint, so long as no appeal has been filed
  • After the 180 days from the day you filed your appeal if the EEOC has not issued a decision, or
  • Within 90 days from the day you receive the EEOC’s decision on your appeal.

If you file a lawsuit, the agency or EEOC will stop processing your complaint.