What are the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission?

How are employment discrimination laws enforced? How do federal and state agencies interact when enforcing anti-discrimination laws?

In Texas, the default rule is that an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason. This is called employment-at-will. However, certain federal and state statutes place limitations on the employment-at-will doctrine by prohibiting employment discrimination, preventing employers from basing their employment decisions—hiring, firing, promoting, and paying—on an employee belonging to a protected class.

Protected classes are listed in various statutes. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability. Similarly, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees over the age of 40 from discrimination. These federal statutes are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Texas has adopted the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) as a state version of federal employment statutes. The TCHRA protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, age, or genetic information. It was intended to provide Texans with the same rights that are provided in federal employment discrimination statutes. The TCHRA is enforced by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal administrative agency responsible for enforcing federal employment discrimination statutes: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

If an employee believes he has been discriminated against, he must first file a complaint against his employer with the EEOC. This complaint is called a charge, and an employee cannot take his employer to court without first filing one. Further, the EEOC will only investigate an employer is a charge has been filed.

From the day of the last discriminatory act—firing, refusal to hire, etc.—a Texas employee has 300 days to file an EEOC charge. The charge must include the name of the employee, the name of the employer, the nature of the discrimination (firing, hiring, etc.), the protected class that the employee claims he belongs to, and the time and the place of the discrimination.

Once a charge is filed, the EEOC begins its investigation. Unlike other administrative agencies, the EEOC does not have the power to order an employer to stop a discriminatory practice. It must first allow an employer to correct its behavior and comply with the federal law.

If the employer doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to stop its discriminatory practice, the EEOC can file suit within 180 days from the day the charge was filed. If the EEOC does not file suit, it issues a “right to sue” letter to the wronged employee which gives the employee 90 days to sue his employer.

Texas Workforce Commission

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is the state agency tasked with enforcing the TCHRA. It has authority over claims of employment discrimination occurring in Texas. Like with the EEOC, filing a charge with the TWC is mandatory before a wronged employee can sue an employer in court.

Further, the TWC has substantially the same powers as does the EEOC. The TWC can receive and investigate complaints. It can create procedural rules, and it can promote the creation of local commissions to help enforce the TCHRA.

Because there is overlap between federal employment statutes and the TCHRA, the EEOC and the TWC have a unique relationship. By statute, the TWC exists as a deferral agency—the EEOC defers employment discrimination charges to the TWC. The two agencies’ relationship is also governed by an annual contract that governs each agency’s responsibilities.