Thinking About Filing an EEO Complaint Against a Federal Agency? Learn The Process

Whether you are a federal employee or a job applicant, you have the right to file an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint against a federal agency that discriminates against you. Ideally, you should get familiar with the federal EEO complaint process long before the need arises for you to take action. If you have chosen a career in the federal government, it is never too early to learn the EEO complaint filing basics. So, do your homework.

Never dash into an agency’s civil rights office to report an alleged discriminatory act without knowing what will happen next. In addition, never blindly enter the EEO arena with high expectations or you will surely face immeasurable disappointment. When thinking of getting a lawyer to handle your case, still learn the federal EEO complaint process. Make sure any lawyer you choose knows it too. The federal EEO complaint process differs markedly from the non-federal complaint process.

The federal complaint process is protracted and imbalanced. Federal officials, who serve to safeguard the agency interest, doggedly apply ways to dismiss a claim brought by an employee or applicant. As shared in the invaluable sourcebook 17 Steps: A Federal Employee’s Guide For Tackling Workplace Discrimination, one common reason an agency may dismiss a discrimination claim is that an aggrieved person fails to timely contact an EEO counselor. Generally, federal employees and job applicants must contact an agency EEO counselor “within 45 days” of an alleged incident of discrimination.

Generally, federal employees and job applicants must contact an agency EEO counselor “within 45 days” of an alleged incident of discrimination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated in its May 14, 2018 press release that the federal government is the nation’s largest employer, with close to “2.5 million” employees, and it “strives to serve as a model employer. Notwithstanding the government’s goal to function as a model employer, it struggles to promote EEO. The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act, commonly known as the “No FEAR Act,” was passed in 2002. One purpose of the Act is to hold federal agencies accountable for violating anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws. Yet, it seems as if the Act does little to curb federal workplace discrimination. The EEOC reports that during FY2015, federal EEO complaint activity rose “3.2% from the prior year.”

Additionally, the EEOC’s Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Report of the Federal Workforce, which captures government-wide data, revealed that thousands of individuals sought counseling after being exposed to alleged discriminatory treatment. Specifically, the EEOC states in FY 2015, EEO counselings totaled 35,001 resulting in formal complaints of 15,490. “Parties involved in discrimination charges entered into 3,495 settlement agreements, which were 26.1% of the total complaint closures” (EEOC, Press Release, May 14, 2018).

The No FEAR Act requires an agency to provide training to employees on their the rights and remedies under federal anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws. However, No FEAR does not require an agency to train employees on the A-B-C’s of how to timely file an actionable complaint. Therefore, minorities, persons with disabilities, persons 40 and over and persons who participate in EEO activity should make learning the federal EEO complaint process a priority. Based on available EEOC data, these groups are most vulnerable to workplace inequality.

Note:  Federal agencies, including the EEOC, rarely find in favor of the aggrieved individual.  According to the EEOC, in FY 2015 of the 6,009 cases the government closed on the merits it found unlawful discrimination — only 2.8% of the time.

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