If you believe the employer has discriminated against you because you have a disability, you generally have the right to file complaints with the federal and state agencies that enforce employment laws. Federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of disability require you to file a complaint before you may file a lawsuit in court. Under new Ohio law, you must also generally (but not always) exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit under state law.
Complaint and charge have slightly different meanings. Government agencies, their regulations, and their rules usually refer to your complaint as your charge. The two words are often used to mean the same thing. For consistency, this booklet always uses the word complaint.
Government agencies do not charge fees to file a complaint. You can file complaints with or without a lawyer, in person or by mail. If you ask, government agencies must provide you reasonable accommodations for your disability so you can:
- file your complaint,
- be able to review documents, and
- attend interviews and participate in meetings throughout the complaint process.
The government agency will review your complaint and will decide whether or not to investigate further. The government agency may dismiss your complaint at any time after initial review. When you receive notice of the dismissal. you will also receive a notice of right to sue. This notice allows you to bring your claim in court. If your complaint is dismissed, you have the right to a review of that decision.
Federal government agencies review and investigate complaints of federal law violations and state government agencies review and investigate complaints of state law violations. However, employment discrimination commonly violates both federal and state laws. Federal and state government agencies cooperate so that complaints are properly reviewed and investigated, regardless of the agency that receives the complaint. If you have any doubt whether to file your complaint with a federal or state agency, DRO recommends that you file your complaint with both.
State employees may or may not be able to sue state government employers in federal courts. Different federal courts have reached different conclusions about which federal employment laws protect state employees, when lawsuits must be filed, and whether state employees must first file a complaint with a state government agency before they may file a lawsuit in federal court. If you are a state employee, DRO recommends that you consult a lawyer about your options.
Complaints to EEOC - Federal Agency
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates complaints about violations of federal laws. Nearly all laws enforced by the EEOC require you to file a complaint before you may file a lawsuit in court.
If you plan to file a lawsuit and you are not a state employee, you must first file a complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of when the employer discriminated against you. The deadline is 180 days if the discriminatory act violates federal law, but not state law (very often, discriminatory acts violate both federal and state laws). Just completing the EEOC's intake questionnaire does not count as filing a complaint. The EEOC can accept, and should accept, your complaint later than 300 days in certain situations. For example, the EEOC should accept your complaint after the 300-day deadline if the employer concealed facts that would support your complaint, or if you otherwise had no reason to suspect that the employer discriminated against you at the time. To be certain to preserve your right to file a complaint, DRO recommends that you file your complaint within the 300 day time period (or 180 days, if applicable).
If you work for a federal agency or a federal contractor, you must file your complaint internally with the employer's Equal Employment Opportunity Office within 45 days of the violation.
During the EEOC investigation and again after the EEOC completes its investigation, the EEOC will assist you and the employer to reach an agreement to remedy the harm done to you (see Remedies). If you and the employer do not reach an agreement, or if the employer does not keep its agreement with you, the EEOC may sue the employer in court. However, the EEOC is not required to sue the employer in court, even if the EEOC investigation finds that the employer violated the law or broke its agreement with you. For more information, see the section called Lawsuits in State and Federal Court.
The EEOC may dismiss your complaint at any time during the complaint process. You will be notified in writing of the dismissal and of your right to file a lawsuit within 90 days of the dismissal.
You can file an EEOC complaint in person (the availability of this option could be impacted by COVID-19 rules), by telephone, or by mail. For more information, you can visit the EEOC's website here.
131 M Street, NE
Washington, DC 20507
202-663-4900 / (TTY) 202-663-4494
EEOC Cincinnati District Office
John W. Peck Federal Office Building
550 Main Street, 10th Floor
Cincinnati, OH 45202
ASL Video phone 844-234-5122
EEOC Cleveland District Office
Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building
1240 E. 9th Street, Suite 3001
Cleveland, OH 44199
For general inquiries or to begin the process of filing a complaint of discrimination, please call 1-800-669-4000.
If you have existing business with the Cleveland Field Office or know the name of the person you are trying to reach, please call 1-866-408-8075.
ASL Video phone 844-234-5122
Complaints to OCRC - State Agency
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) investigates complaints about state law violations. You can go to this link for more information on the process for filing a complaint with the OCRC. If your complaint includes a federal law violation. OCRC will file your complaint with the EEOC, but OCRC usually keeps and processes the complaint.
If you have any doubt about whether to file your complaint with a federal or state agency, DRO recommends that you file your complaint with both.
Ohio law now generally (but not always) requires you to file a complaint with the OCRC and receive a notice of right to sue before you can file in state court. Like the federal EEOC, the state OCRC can accept, and should accept, your complaint after the two year deadline in certain situations. To be certain to preserve your right to file a complaint, DRO recommends that you file your OCRC complaint within the two-year time period.
Like the federal EEOC, the state OCRC will review and investigate your complaint. Before the investigation starts, the investigator will ask you and the employer if you wish to use mediation to try to resolve your complaint. If either of you refuse, or if you and the employer do not reach an agreement, the OCRC investigation will continue.
Sixty days after filing a complaint with OCRC, you may ask that the preliminary investigation stop and that OCRC give you notice of the right to sue.
If the OCRC investigator finds probable cause to believe that the employer violated laws that prohibit employment discrimination, the OCRC will again try to assist you and the employer to reach an agreement to settle your complaint through mediation.
"Probable cause" is a standard that OCRC applies to decide whether to pursue or to dismiss a complaint against an employer. An OCRC determination of probable cause means that the investigator found facts strong enough for OCRC to believe that the employer probably violated laws that prohibit employment discrimination.
If you reach an agreement with the employer during the OCRC investigation or after the investigation is completed, your part of the settlement agreement will be to withdraw your OCRC complaint and probably to give up your right to sue the employer in court. DRO recommends that you consult a lawyer to help you decide whether to accept a settlement agreement, modify its language, or to proceed with your complaint.
You are not required to participate in OCRC mediation. The decision whether or not to participate in mediation is yours. DRO's experience is that the mediation process can often help you understand the strength of the employer's case and what evidence the employer might use against you during the investigation or at a hearing. The decision whether or not to accept a settlement is yours but OCRC has the power to reach a settlement with the employer without your agreement.
If the OCRC finds probable cause to believe that the employer violated laws that prohibit employment discrimination, the OCRC will issue its own complaint against the employer. At this point, the OCRC will be represented by a lawyer from the Attorney General's office. This lawyer may again try to settle the case, and has the authority to reach an agreement with the employer to settle it without your consent. If a settlement is not reached, OCRC will present its own complaint against the employer during a formal hearing, either before an administrative law judge or before an OCRC commissioner. A hearing is not a trial in court, and the rules of evidence that apply to court trials do not apply to these hearings. However, you have the right to submit written and oral arguments to support your complaint, and you have the right to question witnesses at the hearing. The employer will probably be represented by their own lawyers at the hearing. DRO recommends that you consult and be represented at the hearing by a lawyer as well.
After the hearing, the presiding administrative law judge or OCRC commissioner will make recommendations to the OCRC about whether the employer violated laws that prohibit employment discrimination. This process can take as long as two years after the hearing is concluded. The OCRC will issue a final order based on these recommendations. The OCRC's final order may require the employer to remedy the harm done to you in a variety of ways (see Remedies section). The OCRC's order is legally binding.
Like the federal EEOC, the state OCRC may find no probable cause to believe that the employer violated laws that prohibit employment discrimination. OCRC may dismiss your complaint at any time during the complaint process. You will be notified of the dismissal in writing. When you receive notice of the dismissal, you have the following options:
- Request reconsideration by OCRC. Your request must be in writing, and must be received by OCRC within ten days of the date on the dismissal letter. You can request to present your case to the OCRC commissioners.
- Request a review by EEOC, if your charge has been dual-filed with EEOC. Your request must be in writing, and must be received by the EEOC office within fifteen days of the date on the dismissal letter.
- Appeal to the court of common pleas for a review of OCRC's decision. The court will be limited to determining whether OCRC's decision was arbitrary, and you must follow the procedures set forth in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 119, which includes provisions for when and where to file your appeal. DRO recommends that you consult an attorney familiar with these procedures.
- File a lawsuit in court. You may file a lawsuit based on state law claims in a state court. Some courts have held that you cannot file a lawsuit based on federal law claims, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, in federal court unless you have received a right-to-sue notice from the federal EEOC.
You can find the common pleas court in your area on the website of the Ohio Supreme Court or your can call the Ohio Supreme Court directly at 614-387-9000.
Listed below is contact information for OCRC regional offices and the counties each office serves. The OCRC Central Office contact information is: Rhodes State Office Tower
30 East Broad Street, 5th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-466-2785 Fax: 614-644-8776
|OCRC Akron Regional Office
Akron Government Bldg.
161 S. High Street, Suite 205
Akron, OH 44308
Phone: 330-643-3100 Fax: 330-643-3120
|Wayne, Summit, Stark, Portage, Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana, Knox, Holmes, Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Carroll, Jefferson, Harrison|
|OCRC Cleveland Regional Office
Lausche State Office Building
615 W. Superior Ave., Suite 885
Cleveland, OH 44113
Phone: 216-787-3150 Fax: 216-787-4121
|Lorain, Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula, Erie, Huron, Richland, Medina, Ashland|
|OCRC Columbus Regional Office
Rhodes State Office Tower
30 East Broad Street, 4th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215
Phone: 614-466-5928 Fax: 614-466-6250
|Franklin, Union, Madison, Delaware, Pickaway, Licking, Fairfield, Hocking, Muskingum, Perry, Athens, Morgan, Guernsey, Noble, Washington, Ross, Belmont, Monroe, Marion, Morrow|
|OCRC Dayton Regional Office
40 W. 4th Centre
40 W. 4th Street, Suite 1900
Dayton, OH 45402
Phone: 937-285-6500 Fax: 937-285-6606
|Butler, Hamilton, Clermont, Clinton, Warren, Brown, Fayette, Highland, Adams, Pike, Scioto, Vinton, Darke, Jackson, Lawrence, Gallia, Meigs, Preble, Shelby, Miami, Montgomery, Logan, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Van Wert, Mercer, Allen, Auglaize, Hardin|
|OCRC Toledo Regional Office
One Government Center
640 Jackson Street, Suite 936
Toledo, OH 43604
Phone: 419-245-2900 Fax: 419-245-2668
|Williams, Defiance, Paulding, Fulton, Henry, Putnam, Lucas, Wood, Hancock, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, Wyandot, Crawford|