EEOC Unveils New Formal Opinion Letter Process

On December 8, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission unveiled a new process for members of the public, including employers, to request formal opinion letters concerning the application of several federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Under the process, employers may submit specific questions or factual scenarios to the EEOC to determine the agency’s “official position” on how the law applies. Though the EEOC retains the discretion to answer a specific inquiry or not, if it does answer, the Commission will issue a formal opinion letter drafted by its legal counsel and approved by a vote of the Commission members.

As more inquiries are submitted, these letters may prove to be an invaluable resource to employers seeking to understand their obligations under the anti-discrimination laws. Even more, employers who rely on these letters can assert a statutory defense to legal claims under Title VII and the ADEA if they can demonstrate that they acted “in good faith, in conformity with, and in reliance on any written interpretation or opinion of the Commission.” Note, however, that this same protection does not extend to opinions issued by Commission interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act, Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or Equal Pay Act, though letters issued by the Commission may nonetheless be helpful in crafting compliance strategies.

More information about this process can be found on the EEOC’s website here. Employers interested in requesting an opinion letter should first consult with an Employment Law Services Staff Attorney for additional information.