Federal employees and applicants are protected from discrimination based on their race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. The law also protects federal employees from retaliation if they oppose employment discrimination, file a complaint of discrimination, or participate in the EEO complaint process (even if the complaint is not yours.)
If you believe you have been discriminated against, the first step for federal employees is to contact an EEO Counselor at their agency. Every federal agency has an EEO office, and generally, you must contact the EEO Counselor within 45 days from the day the discriminatory event occurred. In most cases the EEO Counselor will give you the choice of participating either in EEO counseling or in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program, such as a mediation program. If you do not settle the dispute during counseling or through ADR, you can file a formal discrimination complaint against the agency with the agency's EEO Office. You must file within 15 days from the day you receive notice from your EEO Counselor about how to file.
Once you have filed a formal complaint, the agency will review the complaint and decide whether or not the case should be dismissed for a procedural reason (such as untimely filing), or because it fails to rise to the level of discriminatory conduct. If the agency doesn't dismiss the complaint, it will conduct an investigation. The agency has 180 days from the day you filed your complaint to finish the investigation. When the investigation is finished, the agency will issue a notice giving you two choices: either request a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge or ask the agency to issue a decision as to whether the discrimination occurred.
If you ask the agency to issue a decision and no discrimination is found, or if you disagree with some part of the decision, you can appeal the decision to EEOC or challenge it in federal district court.
If you request a hearing, an EEOC Administrative Judge will conduct the hearing, make a decision, and order relief if discrimination is found. Once the agency receives the Administrative Judge's decision, the agency will issue what is called a final order which will tell you whether the agency agrees with the Administrative Judge and if it will grant any relief the judge ordered. The agency will have 40 days to issue the final order. It will also contain information about your right to appeal to EEOC, your right to file a civil action in federal district court, and the deadline for filing both an appeal and a civil action.
Filing an Appeal of the Agency's Final Decision
You have the right to appeal an agency's final order (including a final order dismissing your complaint) to EEOC Office of Federal Operations. EEOC appellate attorneys will review the entire file, including the agency's investigation, the decision of the Administrative Judge, the transcript of what was said at the hearing (if there was a hearing), and any appeal statements. If the agency disagrees with any part of the Administrative Judge's decision, it must appeal to EEOC.
Request for Reconsideration of The Appeal Decision
If you do not agree with the EEOC's decision on your appeal, you can ask for a reconsideration of that decision. A request for reconsideration is only granted if you can show that the decision is based on a mistake about the facts of the case or the law applied to the facts. You must ask for reconsideration no later than 30 days after you receive our decision on your appeal. Once EEOC has issued a decision on the appeal, the agency also has the right to ask EEOC to reconsider that decision. Once the EEOC made a decision on your request for reconsideration, the decision is final.
Filing A Lawsuit
You must go through the administrative complaint process before you can file a lawsuit for employment discrimination. There are several different points during the process when you will have the opportunity to quit the process and file a lawsuit in court, including:
- After 180 days have passed from the day you filed your complaint, if the agency has not issued a decision and no appeal has been filed;
- Within 90 days from the day you receive the agency's decision on your complaint, so long as no appeal has been filed;
- After the 180 days from the day you filed your appeal if the EEOC has not issued a decision, or;
- Within 90 days from the day you receive the EEOC's decision on your appeal.
The federal sector EEO process is complicated with short filing deadlines and nuanced requirements. Working with an experienced attorney to submit your claim will ensure you meet the short and strict filing deadlines, as well as appropriately allege the necessary elements of the claim you are trying to prove. It is crucial to properly allege your claims during the administrative process in order to achieve the best outcome from your discrimination complaint. To speak with an experienced EEO attorney, contact our firm or schedule a consultation on our website at Moosbrugger-Law.com