This is my third and final blog entry regarding my internship in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the fall of 2011 (my previous blog posts can be found here and here). I still consider it to be one of the greatest professional experiences I've ever had.
From returning phone calls to charging parties (those who have pending cases with the agency), to keeping records and notes regarding individual cases in our electronic software system, to conducting over the phone preliminary interviews, to potential new charging parties, one day in the office was never the same as another. At times, it was exhausting, but always enjoyable!
It was helpful to have a good idea of employment law and practice prior to the internship, but much was learned during it as well. I took an employment law course at the same time, so that worked out very well. It's important to note that my internship dealt strictly with federal anti-discrimination laws and cases. Wrongful termination and other laws, particularly state and local laws, are not part of what the EEOC enforces. It was surprising to learn what was legal and what was not. It was also interesting to learn that not all "discrimination," in its purest sense, is illegal on the federal level.
As an intern in such a position of influence, I, along with fellow interns, had a considerable amount of discretion in how cases would be handled, rated and ultimately passed on to investigation or mediation. We also had the power to dismiss cases if the merits were considerably weak or the issues weren't under the agency's jurisdiction. For instance, claims arising under the Family and Medical Leave Act fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor, not the EEOC. We had to refer them appropriately.
The office staff was great! They were helpful and fun to work with - literally like one big work family. As interns, we were welcomed and made to feel included at all times. This made a huge difference in the experience. We also made friends and were able to use people we worked with as references for future opportunities. Such an experience was truly priceless!
The EEOC safeguards civil rights in the workplace in the United States. Its role continues to change and grow as new laws are passed. I gained tremendous respect for the agency and its mission while I was there, and the knowledge acquired and experience gained was unlike any other. I will forever be proud of my work there and grateful for the chance to be part of protecting civil rights for those in the workplace. As my office's deputy director told me on my last day, "Come back and visit - you're part of the family now."
I'd especially like to thank Mindy Weinstein, acting office director, and Cheryl Mabry-Thomas, acting deputy director, for granting me the chance to be a part of the EEOC's Washington Field Office. They, along with everyone else there, will always have my greatest respect and deepest gratitude.