Filing an EEO complaint is something few employees ever imagine doing.
Most of us hope to have colleagues and supervisors who are at least professional, if not friendly and supportive.
Unfortunately, many federal employees experience illegal discrimination in the workplace.
This includes discrimination based on characteristics such as race, color, national origin, and sexual orientation.
If you feel you are the target of discrimination, you must take action by filing an EEO complaint.
Read on to learn more about the EEO complaint process from an experienced federal employment attorney.
When you are ready, contact us today to take your first steps toward justice.
When Should I File an EEO Complaint?
You should consider filing an EEO complaint whenever you are the victim of illegal discrimination or harassment.
Discrimination refers to any different treatment you receive in your employment.
Harassment is any aggressive or unwelcome behavior that produces a change in your work conditions or creates a hostile work environment.
- Sexual orientation,
- Gender identity,
- National origin,
- Physical disability, and
- Mental disability.
In addition, it is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because of your involvement in any hearing or investigation under any federal anti-discrimination law.
The law protects every aspect of your federal employment from discrimination.
Maybe your boss passed you over for a promotion because of your race. Or perhaps your supervisor removed you from a key project because of your disability.
Even an act as simple as denying you an office parking spot can qualify as discrimination if done for an illegal reason.
Sometimes discrimination is overt and obvious. Other times, it can be almost impossible to detect.
The truth is that you should contact an attorney even if you are not sure whether you’re the target of discrimination.
An experienced employment attorney, with their knowledge and familiarity, can quickly spot red flags.
How the Process of Filing an EEO Complaint Works
Here we outline the steps involved in filing and resolving an EEO complaint. But before any of this happens, our best advice is to contact an experienced federal employment attorney.
Give us a call as soon as you realize you are a victim of discrimination.
We will guide you through the process to ensure you get the compensation and justice you deserve.
Step 1 – Contacting an Agency EEO Counselor
The first step in launching your EEO complaint is to contact an agency EEO counselor.
All federal agencies have an EEO office to receive and process agency EEO complaints. Within each one of these offices are EEO counselors, who serve as unbiased agents.
Counselors who collect information about your version of the facts, walk you through the EEO process, and advise you of your rights under the law.
They will also inform you of alternative dispute resolution methods so that you and the agency have the chance to resolve your complaint at the lowest level.
Whether you have an attorney to represent you or not, the law requires you to contact an EEO counselor.
You also need to act quickly. You have only 45 days from the date of the discriminatory or harassing act to contact a counselor.
If you wait until after that time to contact a counselor, the agency will dismiss your claim.
However, you can ask the agency to extend the timeline if you:
- Were not notified of the time limit,
- Reasonably did not know that the discriminatory or harassing act occurred until a later time, or
- Could not contact the counselor within the time limits because of circumstances beyond your control (like a natural disaster, severe illness, or grave injury).
Agencies have to act within certain timelines as well. Once you have contacted their EEO office, they must conduct your initial counseling within 30 days.
After the counseling, your agency EEO office will give you a form called a Notice of Final Interview.
This Notice informs you of your right to file a formal discrimination or harassment complaint.
Step 2 – Filing a Formal Complaint
You have only 15 days to file a formal complaint after you receive the Notice of Final Interview.
To file a formal complaint, you (or your attorney) need only submit a complaint with your signature, contact information, and your general claims.
If new details emerge after you submit your initial complaint, you can amend your complaint. Once you send your complaint to the agency, it will send you a letter acknowledging your complaint.
Shortly afterward, you will receive a letter from the agency accepting your claims for investigation. It is vital you pay attention to how the agency describes your allegations.
It is common for agencies to mischaracterize your claims, leading to a poor investigation and a faulty final agency decision.
Step 3 – The Agency Investigation
The Agency typically has 180 days to conduct an investigation. In most cases, an investigator from an outside agency (or from a different part of the agency) spends several months interviewing witnesses, collecting relevant evidence, and compiling their report.
The investigator’s goal is to develop a factual record that is unbiased and impartial to all parties.
When the investigation is complete, you and the agency’s legal department will receive a copy of the investigator’s Report of Investigation (ROI).
At this point, you can choose to request either a hearing before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a final decision from the agency regarding your claims.
Settlement is another option you and your attorney may consider during this process.
Depending on the facts that the investigator uncovers, your agency may be eager to resolve the case and give you appropriate compensation.
Step 4 – EEOC Hearing
If you decide to file for a hearing, your case will transfer under the jurisdiction of the EEOC, an agency that focuses primarily on resolving claims of discrimination and harassment.
A special administrative judge (AJ) oversees each EEOC hearing. Before the hearing, the parties will meet for an initial conference and engage in settlement negotiations.
They will also receive the opportunity to conduct discovery, which allows them to collect evidence from the opposing party.
In some cases, your attorney may be able to draft a special motion which can lead to you prevailing without even going to a hearing.
Once at the hearing, your attorney will present evidence and make arguments supporting your claims. Your employer will have the opportunity to make arguments in its defense.
Each party can also call witnesses to testify and question the opposing side’s witnesses.
After the hearing, an EEOC administrative judge will weigh the existing evidence to determine whether you suffered from discrimination or harassment.
If the AJ finds in your favor, then you will probably receive compensatory damages and other forms of relief.
If you are not successful, then you may choose to file an appeal with the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations.
However, appeals are successful only if you can prove the AJ weighed the facts incorrectly or failed to evaluate the law properly.
Maximize Your Chances of Success by Contacting an Outstanding Federal Employment Lawyer Today
Anyone can file a complaint, but not everyone can make a complaint succeed.
If you want to improve your chances of obtaining the compensation and relief you deserve, you need a qualified lawyer.
More than that, you need a lawyer familiar with federal-sector employment discrimination law.
Only a few attorneys have experience with this niche area of law, which can lead to poorer complaint outcomes.
Thankfully, we’re here to help. Each attorney at the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing has extensive experience representing federal employees with EEOC complaints.
Our exclusive focus is to help federal employees like you stand up for their rights.