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Filing discrimination complaints with state, federal agencies: how does the process work?

Previously, we said that employees who believe they may have experienced racial discrimination on the job need to understand not only how to report violations internally, within their company, but also how to report violations to state and federal authorities. As we noted, the EEOC is responsible for handling complaints of employment discrimination at the federal level, while the Minnesota Department of Human Rights handles complaints at the state level.

Like the EEOC, the MDHR’s role is to be a neutral enforcement agency with respect to violations of discrimination laws. The agency investigates complaints, attempts to negotiate settlements when there is probable cause to believe a violation occurred, and may refer the matter to the Attorney General for prosecution. One difference between state and federal discrimination claims, though, is that the EEOC requires employees to file a complaint with the agency before filing a private discrimination claim. This is not a requirement under Minnesota law. 

The EEOC process requires that employees receive a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue prior to filing a discrimination claim in court. Notice is provided when a complaint is dismissed, and a lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of receiving notice. Employees are able to file a request for notice before the EEOC completes its investigation, and notice must be provided if the investigation is not completed within 180 days. Up until that time, the EEOC has discretion to provide notice.

Employees in Minnesota have one year to file a discrimination complaint with the MDHR. Within that time period, employees may choose to file a complaint with the agency, or pursue a claim directly. At the federal level, the deadline is usually 180 days, though this can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. With ongoing discrimination, the deadline is calculated from the date of the last incident.

Navigating the complaint process at the federal or state level doesn’t require an attorney but it can be helpful to work with one, particularly when filing a complaint with the EEOC. This ensures that an employee thoroughly reports the information the agency needs to conduct a thorough investigation, and that the employee is prepared to file a lawsuit with a strong legal basis when he or she receives permission to do so.


MN Department of Human Rights, MDHR’s Role, Accessed May 10, 2017.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Time Limits For Filing A Charge, Accessed May 10, 2017.