Victims of sexual harassment can file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Under federal anti-discrimination laws, an EEOC complaint must be filed within 180 days of the incident. It’s important to know that victims of sexual harassment can not usually take their complaints to court until after they have exhausted the EEOC option.

In addition to federal anti-discrimination laws, many states have civil rights legislation that provides additional protection against harassment. Generally, state laws cover all employers who fall under federal laws, as well as employers who are too small to be covered by Title VII.

Some state laws have longer statutes of limitations than the federal guidelines, and they may have other advantages as well. Both the Michigan and New York state laws, for instance, allowed recovery of damages before the 1991 Civil Rights Act was enacted. It may also be easier and faster to get into state court than it is to get a federal hearing.

How To Contact The Equal Employment Opportunity Commmission

Call toll free,
to find the EEOC office nearest you.

Contact the main office at:
Office of Program
Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20507

State Civil and Human Rights Offices

Check the government directory In your local phone book for the address and phone number of your state Civil Rights or Human Rights Departments. Some states also have a Department of Women and Work that monitors sexual harassment Incidents.


EEOC charges of sexual harassment may be filed in person, by mail, or by telephone. The Commission always acknowledges receipt of claims. If you do not receive an acknowledgement letter within a short time, you should contact the EEOC office,

An EEOC officer will take a sworn statement from you and will also interview your employer. The EEOC may interview witnesses concerning your case, as well. Under EEOC internal procedures, you do not have the right to examine the Commission’s file on your case, but your attorney may do so.

You must give the Commission at least 180 days to investigate the complaint. Within that time, the EEOC should reach a decision. The Commission may decide: that no reasonable cause exists for your claim; or that your claim has merit and that you may sue your employer if you so choose.

In rare cases, the Commission may decide to take your suit to court for you.

Even if the Commission decides against you, it should issue you a “right to sue” letter. You can then decide whether or not you want to hire an attorney and take your employer to court.

Sometimes, in an effort to settle your dispute with your employer, the EEOC will conduct a “conciliation conference.”

If, after 180 days, the EEOC has not issued a decision, you can request a right to sue letter. If you then decide to take your case to court, you must be sure to file your suit within 90 days.

If the EEOC dismisses your complaint and issues a right to sue letter before 180 days have passed and before you have found a lawyer, you may file a pro se complaint to avoid running out of time. (A pro se complaint is a case that you file on your own behalf, without an attorney)


State and Federal EEOC

Description: Agencies that enforce state and federal civil rights laws.

Deadlines: Complaints must be filed within specific time periods following the last incident of sexual harassment. Federal employees have 90 days to file complaints. Private and other public employees have 180 days. Some state laws allow more time than this, up to 300 days. Check the wording of your state law.

Benefits: Reinstatement, back pay, or financial settlement.

Remarks: The EEOC has a huge backlog. In addition, agencies are required to pursue mediation, a compromise between the victim and the employer.

Title VII-1964 and 1991 Civil Rights Act

Description: Federal legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in employment.

Deadlines: Same as those listed for State and Federal EEOC.

Benefits: Provides back pay, attorney’s fees, and/or job reinstatement. The 1991 Civil Rights Act allows for punitive damages as well. There are monetary limits. These range from $150,000 at workplaces with fewer than 100 employees to $300,000 at workplaces with more than 500 employees.

Remarks: For workplaces with at least 15 employees. Must prove sex discrimination. Trial by judge or jury.

State Civil/Human Rights Laws

Description: Similar to Title VII, but varies by state. Often state laws are stronger than federal laws.

Deadlines: Vary by state; typically allowed more time to file than allowed by federal law.

Remarks: May not require minimum number of employees at workplace. May be easier and faster than federal court.

Worker Compensation Act

Description: Operates through State Division of Industrial Accidents. Offers benefits for injury sustained on job.

Benefits: Weekly wage benefits based on percent of income for period of disability; medical benefits.

Remarks: Usually awarded for physical injury. The victim must get a medical or psychiatric evaluation. The employer’s insurance is responsible for the settlement. Some states bar damages for sexual harassment when workers compensation is paid out.

Civil Lawsuits

Description: Breach of contract, and various lawsuits based on common law claims, such as assault, battery, or the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Benefits: Financial compensation for employment losses and physical or emotional injury.

Remarks: Requires private attorney; expensive legal fees.