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What is a “right to sue” letter and what does it mean?


There are two types of letters generally referred to as “right to sue” sent out by the EEOC during the complaint resolution process, though they have formal different names and different meanings.  Before you can go forward with a lawsuit under Title VII, you must have a “right to sue” letter in hand.


If the EEOC determines that there is no reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, you will be issued a letter called a Dismissal and Notice of Rights that tells you that you have the right to file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days from the date of receipt of the letter. The employer will also receive a copy. Even though this letter will not support your claim, it establishes your right to bring a lawsuit and try to prove your claim in court.


Where there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred, both parties have been issued a Letter of Determination, and conciliation has failed, EEOC has the authority to file a lawsuit on your behalf in federal court. But the cases where the agency files a lawsuit are very rare. If the EEOC decides not to litigate in your behalf (by far the most common outcome), you will receive a Notice of Right to Sue outlining your right to file a private lawsuit in federal court within 90 days from receipt of the letter.


If you decide the investigation is taking too long, you may ask for a notice of right to sue after the EEOC has had 180 days to investigate, whether or not they have completed their investigation.  However, be aware that, as stated above, once a notice of right to sue is issued, you have only 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court, or you will waive your right to do so.  It is very difficult to locate a lawyer, have them complete their investigation, and file a lawsuit within 90 days, especially if the suit is a class action.  Thus, you should try to retain a lawyer before you ask for a right to sue letter.


If you decide to file a lawsuit, both you and your employer are entitled to a copy of the EEOC’s investigative findings on your complaint. You should ask the EEOC representative handling your claim how to go about obtaining a copy of your EEOC file.


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Text Box: What is a “right to sue” letter and what does it mean?