The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees equal employment in the federal workplace. The EEOC handles discrimination, retaliation, and harassment claims related to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal legislation. The EEOC process has three (3) steps.
Step 1: Initial Contact
It is important to understand the EEOC process and the different forums you can use to fight it. First, you should make initial contact with your EEOC office within forty-five (45) days of being made aware that you have fallen victim to EEOC protected discrimination. This is an important deadline because, though instances that fall outside of the 45 day window may be used as background facts to establish your current claim, those instances will not be "actionable" claims. Meaning that you likely will not be able to recover damages for occurrences that happened outside of the 45-day window.
Once you have made initial contact, the EEOC office will assign you a counselor. This individual should reach out to you and request more information about your claim. Additionally, this individual should contact the Responsible Management Officials (RMO's) which you have made the complaint against and gather information. Your newly assigned counselor has thirty days to investigate your claim, though they may request an extension. Please note that you do not have to grant an extension. At the end of their investigation, they may propose you and the agency partake in Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) mediation in an effort to get you, and the agency, in a room to discuss how your claim can be settled while providing you the remedies you seek. It is important to understand that you do not have to accept this mediation (in my experience, these ADR meditations are not successful).
Step 2: The Investigative Stage
Once you make initial contact with your EEOC office, and a settlement in regard to your claim is not reached, your counselor will issue you a Notice of Right to File a Formal Complaint. This notice allows you fifteen (15) days to file a formal complaint. The formal complaint will include basic information about yourself, and more importantly include your claims, remedies sought, and the appropriate RMO(s). It is important you file your formal complaint within this 15 day window. Once your formal complaint is filed, you will be issued an acceptance or denial letter.
An acceptance letter will explain which of your claim(s) has been accepted for investigation while a denial letter will explain which of your claim(s) have been denied and why. Please note that if you have more than one claim, you may receive a letter accepting some of your claim(s) and dismissing the rest. Once your claim(s) have been accepted, an unbiased investigator will be assigned to your case and this investigator will have one hundred eighty (180) days to conduct their investigation.
As part of their investigation, the investigator will send you affidavits which you will have to answer as well as request you to provide any and all evidence in support of your claim. The investigator may also request to have a phone interview with you in addition to the affidavits. After you submit your affidavits, the investigator will likely issue affidavits to the RMO(s). Once the RMO(s) submit their affidavits, along with any evidence in support of their position, you will be given a chance to rebut any misstatements, inconsistencies, and or miss-characterizations provided by the RMO(s). After all of this information is gathered by the investigator, the individual may request more evidence and or issue you a Report of Investigation (ROI). Again, the investigator is afforded 180 days to complete the investigation and issue an ROI. A failure to do so within the 180 day period may lead to sanctions against the agency.
Step 3: The Hearing Stage
The ROI issued to you will contain a Notice to Request a Hearing. It is important to note you have thirty (30) days to request a hearing. Failure to do so will lead to the agency issuing you a Final Agency Decision (FAD). Assuming you have timely requested a hearing, the next step in your case will involve the agency assigning an attorney from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) to your case and the EEOC assigning an Administrative Judge(AJ). The Administrative Judge will then issue an Acknowledgment Order outlining the case schedule.
The Acknowledgment Order will establish, among other things, when conferences with the AJ will occur, when discovery will begin and end, and how to communicate with the AJ and opposing counsel. Once all the deadlines specified in the Acknowledgment Order have been met, and you have successfully overcome Summary Judgment (if filed), your case will go in front of the AJ in what is called an administrative hearing.
This administrative hearing is the equivalent to a bench trial, or a trial without a jury, as you will be afforded the opportunity to examine witnesses and argue your evidence in front of the AJ. Your hearing will last as long as the AJ deems appropriate and the AJ will issue his decision shortly after your hearing has concluded. The Judge will either find that your claims have merit and you are the prevailing party, or agree with the agency and find in the agency's favor. Should the Judge find in the agency's favor, you may still have rights to appeal.
If you are a federal employee and you feel that you have experienced discrimination, call (813) 497-7650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to consult with a partner at Solomon, Maharaj, and Kasimati.