Who Enforces the ADA and How Do I File a Complaint?

Submitted by Emily Shuman on Wed, 05/15/2019

In my most recent two blog articles, I wrote about the top three referrals we make and other important resources. The organizations highlighted in those posts align with one of the main pieces of advice we give people, which is to try to work out their ADA-related issues directly with the offending organization.

While most businesses, employers, and State/local governments have good intentions and their desire is to be inclusive and compliant, the unfortunate reality is that some entities learn the hard way. This is where the three ADA enforcement agencies come in, when all other options have been exhausted.

  1. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC enforces Title I of the ADA, which deals with employment activities and applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. Title I makes it unlawful to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in all employment practices including, but not limited to recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, leave and benefits.

The EEOC enforces the employment provisions of the ADA as well as other employment laws. There are some noteworthy things about the way the EEOC operates.  All the laws enforced by EEOC (except for the Equal Pay Act), require you to file a charge of discrimination with them before you can file a job discrimination lawsuit against your employer. A charge of discrimination is a signed statement claiming that an employer, union or labor organization engaged in employment discrimination. It requests the EEOC to take remedial action.

You have a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination. In most cases you will need to file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days from the day the discrimination took place. The EEOC recommends filing sooner rather than later once you’ve decided that’s what you want to do.

The main way to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC is through their Public Portal online. They also have options for filing in person, by phone and by mail, which you can find on their website.

Before the EEOC takes any legal action, they may invite you to take part in their mediation program. This gives the employer and the employee the opportunity to work out their issue with the help of a neutral third party, rather than through the legal system.

If mediation isn’t a good option, the EEOC will launch an investigation. The outcome will vary depending on your situation. The EEOC may file a lawsuit on your behalf or they might be unable to make a determination and issue a letter stating that you now have the right to file a lawsuit yourself. You can find a full breakdown of what to expect after filing a complaint on their website.

  1. The Department of Justice (DOJ)

Titles II and III of the ADA are enforced by the Department of Justice. Title II prohibits State and local government agencies from discriminating against people with disabilities in their programs, services, and activities. This includes, but is not limited to, public educational programs, courts, voting, town meetings, social services, health care, and recreation. Title III applies to places of public accommodation such as sales and service establishments, restaurants, theaters, hotels, doctor’s offices, child care centers, fitness centers, private educational programs, and homeless shelters. Title III also applies to all commercial facilities including office buildings, factories, and warehouses. The responsibility of Title III entities is to provide equal access to goods and services for individuals with disabilities in the most integrated setting possible.

Like the EEOC, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division enforces many laws including the ADA. The DOJ also encourages you to submit a complaint online using their complaint form, but they have options for filing by mail, by fax and by phone. Details on those options can be found on their website.

Unlike the EEOC, the DOJ does not require that you file a complaint with them before you file a lawsuit against an organization. There are also no stated time limits for filing a complaint. After you’ve filed a complaint, you may be contacted for more information in order to launch an investigation. The DOJ also uses an ADA mediation program to help resolve complaints fairly and quickly. Other possible outcomes include referring your complaint to another enforcement agency for investigation and considering the complaint for litigation.

  1. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC)

The FCC enforces Title IV of the ADA. Title IV requires that telephone companies provide telecommunication relay services that allow individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate using a TTY or other non-voice device. Title IV also requires that all television public service announcements produced or funded by the Federal government include closed captioning.

The FCC, like the others, accepts complaints primarily online, through their Consumer Complaint Center. Those that need assistance with filing are directed to e-mail or call the FCC Disability Rights Office. Their mediation process is called Dispute Assistance, and in most cases they require you to exhaust this option before filing a complaint. If your dispute is not resolved within 30 days, then you are free to file a complaint. If the FCC determines there is not enough information to make a determination, they will dismiss the complaint and instruct you to file again. With enough information, the FCC will make a decision and notify both parties.

All three enforcement agencies highly encourage (and sometimes require) people to take advantage of the mediation process before filing a complaint. They claim this process is effective and often much quicker. If you file a complaint, you should expect the process to take nearly a year.

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The Rocky Mountain ADA Center's blog, Access Granted, tackles ADA issues through unique and diverse perspectives. Articles are written by staff of RMADAC and a variety of special guest authors. Some may be educational, others might be personal or thought-provoking. Either way, Access Granted will bring you the ADA of today!

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