A complaint filed in a state or local human rights department will be handled similarly to the way that the EEOC handles complaints. Once the complaint is accepted and assigned a case number, notice of the complaint is sent to the employer for a required response. The case then goes into a database awaiting an available investigator.
In states where the activity in the human rights department is low, the investigator may be assigned even before the employer’s response is sent in. For those offices that have backlogs, it can take several months to a year before an investigator is assigned. Please note several of the states that carry a huge backlog have a time limit on how long the case can sit waiting for an investigator to be assigned. Once that time limit is reached, you may be given the option to go into a higher (more expensive and more time consuming) court or have the case dismissed (without being able to reinstate it).
Once an investigator is assigned, he or she will contact both the employer and the employee for additional information. The investigator may hold a fact-finding hearing and assist in settlement negotiations. When the investigator is sure that all the investigation is completed, he or she will write up a decision and send that decision to a supervisor. The decision will either be that the investigator did not find sufficient evidence of discrimination or that the case has merit and should go on to the next higher level.
Many times, if the investigator finds that the case has merit, the case will be settled because the employer does not want the complaint to proceed to a more expensive, more time-consuming court. If there is no settlement offered, the employee may need to consider whether the extra expense and time to take his or her complaint to the next level is worth it. This entire process may take more than a year.