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Being Heard: Choosing a Federal Agency

Depending on who your employer is, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the US Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), for federally funded institutions. I strongly encourage to explore all of these agencies' websites by clicking on the hyperlinks, and seeing what services they have to offer you. We will try to cover the pros and cons of using either federal agency in this article. No matter who you choose, you can't really go wrong; both can be your HR department's worst nightmare, as long as you present a strong case against your institution/ employer. There are strengths and weaknesses for choosing either/or. Keep in mind, you can only use one or the other, so, choose wisely.

The OFCCP is another great option, if your primary concern is expedient justice over money.

We will start with the EEOC, first, because of their biggest advantage and weakness over the OFCCP: every company, organization, or institution can be investigated by the EEOC.

I say this is also their greatest weakness, because that also means they are substantially overworked. It may take a long time to conduct a perfection interview with the EEOC, so if you don't think you can wait that long, you might want to see if the OFCCP is an option for you. Generally, this will be the case if your employer receives any federal funding (such as grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH), for example).

The other major advantage that the EEOC has over the OFCCP is that they can seek monetary damages from your institution on your behalf pro bono. OFCCP cannot do this for you, however, if you have the money to file a lawsuit against your school, either agency can issue you a right to sue letter, effectively opening your school up to legal litigation. Although OFCCP can't sue the school on your behalf, they can also seek financial relief for you in the form of student loan forgiveness (for federal loans), or recoupment of any overtime pay you are eligible for (we will discuss this in more detail in a later article).

Generally, a right to sue is only issued if the federal agency in question is unable to find any significant findings of unlawful behavior by your institution. In most cases, it is considered better of the federal agency to take action against the institution for you, because again, these services are pro bono. You pay zilch, nada, jack.

However, some people may be enticed by the prospect of potentially making a ton of money off of their school. I say "potentially", because your institution will fight you right back (they would be foolish not to). They will hire several lawyers and push back any litigation against them as long as possible, which will rack up exorbitant legal fees on the plaintiff (i.e. you). While yes, there are some free legal services one could pursue, you have to fit very special criteria (such as being in an extremely low income tax bracket) to take advantage of these services. If you are paying for legal services at your school or place of employment, you can't expect them to act on your behalf against the school either; their loyalty lies with the employer over the employee. If you decide to seek the legal route against your school, be prepared (and willing) to accept the possibility that you may be spending several tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. If you win your case, there are certain things you can do post-hoc, such as having the defendant also pay for your legal fees, but you still have to win the case. If you don't win, you'll be left with the bill, and if you make an especially week case, it may open you up to a countersuit. Tread very carefully if you decide to pursue this route, and definitely, whatever you do, don't let your school or employer know that you're planning to do this.

This is why I say the preferable course of action is to have the federal agency take action for you. Unless you come form a particularly wealthy household, the struggle to keep up with the legal bills will become very apparent, very quick. You may consider it as an investment, or you may consider it as a major risk. Whatever you do, think carefully if this is the route you want to go, provided your investigation concludes without significant findings. With great risk comes great reward. Are you willing to accept the consequences of failure?

Moving on, perhaps the biggest advantage that OFCCP has over the EEOC is that since they can only accept cases against federally funded institutions, they consequently have a much smaller workload than the EEOC. This means that OFCCP agents can dedicate more time and effort to your specific case much faster than the EEOC would be able to, almost every single time.

So, as you can see, there are strengths and weaknesses with choosing either agency. No matter who you decide to go with, however, please be patient and understanding. As long as you have supported your case with hard evidence in the form of texts, emails, meeting minutes, phone logs, performance evaluations, and a well-written personal statement, you can rest assured that they will take your case seriously. Since both agencies are part of the Federal Government, they will act in an autonomous and unbiased manner when considering your case.

That said, you will have to make sure that you spell everything out for them. Although you almost know everything about your case (at least to the best of your knowledge), the federal government goes in completely blind. Do your utmost due diligence to fill in the blanks for them.

This, in essence basically summarizes our discussion today. Tomorrow, we will discuss the Federal Mediation Contract Services (FMCS), and how they can help make sure you are being treated fairly during the interactive process.

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