This page includes information for employees and volunteers who have experienced harassment or discrimination in a nonprofit and are ready to explore legal action.
For information on what to do while experiencing harassment, see What To Do.
Talk to a Lawyer
An employment or occupation lawyer can tell you what your rights are and if they have been violated. They can also talk you through possible plans of action such as pre-trial settlement, arbitration (if you signed an arbitration agreement), lawsuit, or mediation (an attempt to settle the case with the assistance of a third-party).
Regardless of what you choose to do, talking to a lawyer will help you make a well-informed decision regarding the best course of action.
From Nolo.com: Workplace Retaliation: When You Should Talk to a Lawyer
How much will it cost?
Lawyers are expensive, and the prospect of a legal case can be daunting, but every state, and many cities, have attorneys who specialize in workplace issues and offer a free one hour consultation.
If an attorney determines that you have a case, they may work on contingency, which means you don’t have to pay until a settlement is reached or a lawsuit is won. The attorney fees would come out of your settlement or judgement. If you don’t get paid, the attorney doesn’t get paid. Many employment attorneys understand that employees, especially in fields such as nonprofit work, can't afford an expensive hourly rate.
Attorneys are more likely to consider your case if you have good documentation and have followed the proper steps, i.e., reported to Human Resources to give your organization a chance to rectify the problem.
Sixty minutes with a lawyer could provide the knowledge, support, and confidence necessary to move forward with a harassment or discrimination case.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
If you’re being harassed or experiencing discrimination, but are unable to talk to a lawyer, don’t give up! Visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) online and learn how to file a charge.
"If the EEOC decides that your employer did in fact violate anti-discrimination laws, it will either seek a settlement with the employer or take the case to court. If the agency decides not to sue, it will send you a 'Notice of Right to Sue' regardless of its findings from the investigation. But you may not sue your employer in federal court without first filing charges with the EEOC."
Is the EEOC right for you?
Part One of the EEOC’s assessment tool will determine if the EEOC is the right federal agency to handle your employment discrimination situation. In Part Two, you can start the process of filing a charge by completing an Intake Questionnaire, printing it, and mailing it to the appropriate EEOC field office.
Can you submit an inquiry online?
If you live within 100 miles of EEOC offices in Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, or Seattle, you can submit an inquiry online (instead of mailing it) and schedule an interview to explain the details of your complaint. Enter your zip code and you’ll be directed to Public Portal where you can choose, I Want to File a Complaint. Note: If your zip code isn’t in the correct location, you’ll be directed to the assessment tool.
To learn more about these options, read the EEOC's description.
What if it happened a long time ago?
"The anti-discrimination laws give you a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination. In general, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180 calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. ...Also, if more than one discriminatory event took place, the deadline usually applies to each event."
National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA)
NELA is an organization of attorneys that "advances employee rights and serves lawyers who advocate for equality and justice in the American workplace."
You may use NELA's website to locate a lawyer.
Here are just a few of many successful anti-discrimination cases handled by the EEOC:
- Costco failed to protect a female employee from a male customer (in the case of a nonprofit, the "customer" may be a donor)
- Transport company pays $200k because of race discrimination
- 1.4 million awarded to women who worked for a food processing company in California
If you know of a success story you'd like us to include, please contact us.