Can I File a Complaint with a Government Agency Before Filing a Lawsuit?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

When dealing with civil rights issues and discrimination, you might have heard of offices like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the various Offices of Civil Rights (OCR) for the Department of Education or the Department of Health and Human Services.  In many cases, you can file claims with these offices and agencies, but do they come before or after a lawsuit?

If you are pursuing a claim for civil rights violations by the government, you often have to exhaust your remedies through complaints and filings with various agencies and offices before you can turn to a lawsuit.  When you are filing a claim for a violation by a school, university, or employer, you often have to file with the relevant agency first as well.  The order of who to file with first is further complicated when state agencies get involved.

For a free review of your potential case, call the civil rights attorneys at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin today at (814) 826-3586.

When to File a Complaint with a Government Agency

If your rights were violated and you want justice, turning to a government agency is usually the first step, regardless of who violated your rights.  However, it is important to understand what cases these rules apply to and what violations.  In any case, you can always turn to our civil rights attorneys with any questions you have about the filing process or the order of operations when it comes to claims and lawsuits.

Types of Claims to File with Government Agencies

If you were hurt or injured in an accident, you can often sue the person who injured you directly.  There is no need to file with a government agency in these cases, in part because there is usually no government agency that covers these kinds of issues.  So for things like a slip and fall in a store or an accident at work, you can file a lawsuit against the appropriate parties or take the case against their insurance.

Many people think of organizations like the Better Business Bureau or a local chamber of commerce as government agencies that you should file a complaint with if something went wrong at a local business.  In many cases, this is not necessary, and these entities are not actually government agencies.  They also usually have no power to right wrongs like this, except by pressuring the businesses to use better practices.

Instead, the types of claims that you file with government agencies usually deal with discrimination and civil rights issues.  For example, if you faced discrimination in housing, healthcare, education, or employment, there is usually a state and a federal government agency that you should turn to to file your complaint.

Discrimination by Government Entities

When you are discriminated against by a part of the government, you usually need to take your claim through the appropriate channels of government agencies before you can file a lawsuit.  When it comes to discrimination by a government agency itself, there is usually an office of civil rights with that organization that you must file with.  Federally and in some states, the Department of Justice or the state’s Attorney General office might handle complaints like this.

Otherwise, different government agencies and various offices cover different areas of discrimination by public entities like schools or even public employers (e.g., a courthouse or post office).  The office you file with is usually the same regardless of whether the university, employer, or other entity responsible for discrimination is a public entity or a private entity.

Discrimination by Private Entities

Different offices cover discrimination and civil rights complaints depending on what kind of discrimination you are filing a complaint for.

The Department of Education’s OCR is responsible for any claims of racial, religious, sexual, or other discrimination in education, whether at a private or public college or university.  That includes Title IX violations.  This office also covers complaints about discrimination in elementary, middle, and high schools and other institutions.

The EEOC handles complaints about workplace discrimination.  This should include claims of sexual harassment as well as discrimination based on sex, race, national origin, or other issues.

Housing discrimination complaints should be sent to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s OCR.

States often have their own versions of these offices.  If discrimination is illegal under both federal and state law, you might have a choice of which to file with, or you could pursue a complaint with both the state and federal offices at once.  In some cases, there are no federal protections, such as in cases of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing.  There, your state might have more robust protections that the federal government does not, so you would file with the state’s agency.

For help with other types of discrimination, such as voting or public accommodations, talk to our attorneys for more specific information.

Complaints with Government Entities vs. Lawsuits for Rights Violations

When you file a complaint with a government entity, the goal is usually to produce an investigation and stop the discrimination from happening.  The government is primarily concerned with making sure it is following its own rules and providing an outlet for complaints so that any mistakes can be addressed.  A complaint with a government agency might not get you compensation for the discrimination you faced.

When you file a lawsuit for discrimination or civil rights violations, you might be entitled to more financial help.  A lawsuit against an employer, a school, or a government entity can result in monetary damages as well as other relief, such as an injunction.  This can help set things right by literally paying you back for the harm.

Do You Sue or File an Official Complaint for Police Misconduct?

In many cases, you can file a lawsuit for police misconduct and rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (known as a “1983 lawsuit”).  However, these cases are often unsuccessful because of a doctrine known as “qualified immunity.”  There is not usually a requirement to file a complaint with a government agency, but the Department of Justice or your state’s Attorney General’s office might be better equipped to affect change when you face a violation if a lawsuit is unsuccessful.

Call Our Civil Rights Attorneys Today

For help filing a claim or lawsuit for discrimination or a rights violation, call The Law Office of Andrew Shubin’s civil rights attorneys at (814) 826-3586.


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