By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently released its statistics on the claims made in 2012. How much money did employers have to pay?

If you’ve ever felt your employer discriminated against you, you may be tempted to sue the jerk. But you can’t. Not right away.

First you have to file a complaint with the EEOC or the state agency. They get to investigate your complaint before it goes to court. They can mediate the action and ask both parties to settle (sometimes employers pay because they want to resolve the matter).

The EEOC can also give their opinion on your case – they can say they don’t think there’s evidence of discrimination. Or they can sit on it and not make a decision. Or, the EEOC can find that it’s likely your employer did discriminate. Then they can try to settle the matter with your employer or file a lawsuit for you.

This past year, the EEOC had a banner year in getting money for people who complained. Recently released statistics show they collected over $365 million dollars from employers on behalf of employees who complained – the highest amount ever.

Employers therefore need to know that they have to be super careful to treat employees fairly; employees now know they have an effective hammer if they don’t.