1) File a Charge

Although the case law discussed throughout this monograph consists of federal court decisions, a Title VII religious discrimination claim begins with a charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency in charge of administering and enforcing the Civil Rights Act.

The proper form to use can be obtained at the nearest regional EEOC office, which you can find in the blue government listings section of your phonebook, and should be completed with the same detail and specificity used to communicate the employee's religious objections to the union and employer. Claims must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.81

Claimants should also file a claim with the EEOC's counterpart at the state level, if such an entity exists. In Michigan, this agency is the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.82

2) EEOC Will Intervene

The EEOC will put the parties involved on notice that charges have been formally filed and that the agency will proceed with an investigation. It will then conduct interviews with the parties, and will accept documentation and evidence pertaining to the discrimination claim in an effort to determine what has actually taken place.

An investigation pursuant to a timely discrimination charge will enable the agency to decide whether it believes there is cause to pursue the charge or whether there is no cause for action under Title VII.

If the agency believes the law was violated, it will issue a "cause determination letter" and act as a conciliator, with an eye toward achieving a reasonable accommodation. Conversely, if the agency believes no violation took place, it will issue a "no cause" determination letter. At that point, employees have 90 days to file suit in federal court.

If the EEOC-administered conciliation effort fails, the agency can take the claim to the courts for enforcement. The agency also has the option of abandoning the case and issuing a "right to sue" letter informing the charging party that he or she has 90 days to file a lawsuit. If the employee wants to pursue the case, he or she must then press the claim to its conclusion in the courts.

Many employees don't understand that there are groups willing to take on such cases and shoulder the legal expense or provide legal counsel for the plaintiff so the case can go forward rather than being dropped because the employee can't afford legal expenses. For a listing of some of these groups, see Appendix I at the end of this report.