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If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work because of your medical condition, consider the following steps:

  • Step 1: Try to work things out with your employer. If you can't resolve your claim wit h your employer:
  • Step 2:  Consider pursuing your claim with the appropriate federal or state agency. As a general matter, you have to file a complaint with one of these agencies before you can sue. There is usually a short time frame for filing a claim. If you miss the deadline, you cannot file a complaint. The federal and state agencies coordinate their efforts in this area.Filing a complaint and seeing the process through this level is free. 
  • Step 3. If there is not a satisfactory resolution, you can sue in court.

Before filing a complaint with a government agency, think about whether you want to continue to work for the employer. A filed complaint can make for a difficult work enviornment. If the key for you is to keep working for this employer, filing a claim may not be the best thing to do. It may be better to look for a good negotiated outcome – which may mean hiring a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer is generally less threatening to an employer than filing a claim with a government agency. (Note: click here to learn about filing a complaint while hiding your identity.)

If, after reading this article, you decide to file a claim with the a governmental agency, read Enforcement of Workplace Discrimination Laws – Getting Starting. For a sample letter to write the EEOC, click here.

NOTE: Matters with the EEOC are private. However, keep in mint that IF a complaint results in a lawsuit, a lawsuit is a public record. Future employers will likely learn about the suit when they check your background before making an employment offer.

For information, see:

For information about additional legal protections at work, click here.

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How To Determine What Agency To Use To File A Discrimination Claim

As a general matter, a discrimination claim has to be filed with a governmental agency before you can sue in court.

The laws and the agencies that enforce them are:

  • The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). To contact the EEOC, look in your telephone directory under "U.S. Government." For information and instructions on reaching your local office, call: 800.669-4000
  • The federal Rehabilitation Act: Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Don't be surprised if the OFCCP gives the case to the EEOC to investigate. The two agencies are that cooperative. You can call OFCCP’s toll free at 1-800-397-6251
  • State laws: To find the appropriate agency in your state, go to the web site of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies, search by a map or list of members. The list of members is located at: offsite link.

Which agency or agencies to file with:

  • If you have a claim which could be subject to The Rehabilitation Act as well as others, at least file a claim with OFCCP. All the agencies do the same type of investigation and discussion with an employer to try to resolve a situation. However, the OFCCP has the additional teeth of being able to bar a company from federal contracts.
  • Speak with your local disease specific non-profit organization, a social worker or an attorney who specializes in job discrimination. They may have an idea of which agency is better for your particular situation -- particularly whether the interpretation of the law on a federal or state level is more favorable to you, and which one has remedies available that you want.. They will also know which agency is currently handling complaints more quickly.
  • If you have a choice as to which agency to file your complaint with, consider filing with all of them. They will coordinate with each other. The federal agencies use the same standards for disability as the EEOC as much as possible. One agency will take the lead and the others will put a "stay" on your complaint while the lead agency proceeds. You can always discontinue a complaint with one of the agencies. 


Deadline For Filing A Charge of Discrimination

To protect legal rights, it is always best to contact the agency in charge promptly when discrimination is suspected. If you don’t file your complaint by the deadline, even if you’re only one day late, the government agency can not help you.

Deadlines differ:

  • The deadline for filing a charge under the Federal ADA is within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation.
  • The period of time in which to file a claim under the Rehabilitation Act differs depending on the nature of the claim. 
  • The various state laws also differ.

How To Protect Your Identity When Filing a Charge of Discrimination

If you want to protect your identity, you can ask an individual, organization, or agency to file a charge on your behalf. In such a situation, it is advisable to go to the appropriate government agency with your representative to file the complaint, explaining that you wish not to be named.

Your representative can be a friend, family member, or even a disease specific non-profit organization.

What Happens After A Discrimination Complaint Is Filed With A Government Agency?

As a general matter, when a charge is filed with a governmental agency, your employer is notified that the charge has been filed.

Your case can go onto one of two tracks: the Litigation Track or the Mediation Track.

The litigation track works as follows:

  • The agency investigates on a priority basis to determine if the initial facts appear to support a violation of law.
  • If more information is needed, the agency will conduct a follow-up investigation to determine whether it is likely that a violation has occurred.
  • If the agency finds that a violation of law has occurred, it will attempt a "Conciliation." The agency contacts your employer and attempts to get the employer to correct the situation.
  • If Conciliation fails:
    • The agency will consider suing the employer.
    • If the agency decides not to sue, it will provide you with a "Right to Sue" letter. You then have the time specified in the notice (usually 90 days) to bring your own legal action against the employer. You cannot begin a lawsuit prior to receiving this letter from the appropriate agency.

The mediation track works as follows:

If the case requires additional investigation to determine whether or not there was a violation but the indications are that there may have been, the agency may move your case out of the litigation track to Mediation.

Mediation gives you and your employer the opportunity to discuss the issues raised in the charge, clear up misunderstandings, determine the underlying interests or concerns, find areas of agreement and, ultimately, to incorporate those areas of agreements into an acceptable solution.

  • Mediation is an informal process in which a neutral third party assists both you and your employer to reach a voluntary, negotiated resolution of a charge of discrimination.
  • The decision to mediate is completely voluntary for both you and your employer.
  • The agency will provide a mediator to conduct the process. The mediator does not resolve your charge or impose a decision on the parties. Instead, the mediator helps you and your employer agree on a mutually acceptable resolution.
  • The mediation process is strictly confidential. Information disclosed during mediation will not be revealed to anyone, including other agency employees.
  • If the matter is resolved, that is the end of it. If not, then it's up to you to decide whether to sue your employer.


If, in the agency's best judgment, there is no violation of the law, a charge may be dismissed at any time, including at the time the charge is filed, at the time an initial in-depth interview does not produce evidence to support the claim, or later on.

If an agency dismisses the case, it will issue a notice closing the case. You then have a limited period of time (such as 90 days) in which to file a lawsuit yourself.

What If My Claim Is Against A State Or Local Government?

The procedure is the same as described above for claims against private employers.

In ADA cases against state or local governments, the EEOC does the preliminary and investigative steps. If the case goes to court, the Department of Justice handles the litigation.

When Can I Start An Employment Discrimination Lawsuit In Court?

You cannot just file a lawsuit against your employer. You may only file a lawsuit after receiving a notice of a "Right to Sue" from the appropriate government agency.

If you’re really in a rush, you can request a notice of "Right to Sue" from the agency. With the EEOC, you can make the request 180 days after you first file the charge with the Commission.

In either case, you have a limited period of time (usually 90 days) after receiving this notice to start your lawsuit.

You can also sue if a conciliation, mediation or settlement agreement is not honored by an employer, whether this is after your case is successfully conciliated or mediated, or if a similar earlier case has been successfully mediated or settled.

What Remedies Are Available When Discrimination Is Found?

The "relief" or remedies available for employment discrimination may include:

  • Back pay you lost due to the discrimination, usually from the moment the discrimination occurred to the time that it is determined there was discrimination.
  • Ordering you to be hired if the discrimination caused you not to be hired for a position.
  • Ordering you to be promoted if the discrimination caused you not to be promoted.
  • Reinstatement to the job from which you were unfairly fired.
  • Front pay, which is a lump sum amount to cover the time from when the discrimination is determined until an estimated time in the future when you should be back in the work force with no effects of the discrimination, such as 6 months of future salary.
  • Provision of a reasonable accommodation (see Reasonable Accommodation).
  • Other actions that will make you "whole," which basically means returning you to the condition you would have had if the discrimination hadn't happened.
  • The employer may be required to take corrective or preventive actions to cure the source of the identified discrimination and minimize the chance of its recurrence, as well as discontinue the specific discriminatory practices involved in the case.
  • An employer may also be required to post notices to all employees addressing the violations of a specific charge and advising them of their rights under the laws and their right to be free from retaliation.
  • If your employer is subject to the Federal Rehabilitation Act, the employer may be barred from receiving federal contracts.
  • Remedies also may include payment of:
    • Your attorneys' fees,
    • Expert witness fees, and
    • Court costs.

Reasonable accomodation: In cases concerning reasonable accommodation under the ADA, you may not be awarded any damages if your employer can demonstrate that "good faith" efforts were made to provide reasonable accommodation.