- Request a final agency decision. Under this avenue, the agency will review the ROI and determine whether the Agency illegally discriminated against the complainant. If a complainant chooses this route, he or she may not later seek a hearing before an EEOC administrative judge. Upon receipt of the final agency decision, the complainant may appeal the decision to the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations or seek a trial in federal district court.
- Hearing before an EEOC administrative judge. Under this path, the complainant can be represented by an attorney and can engage in discovery (demand documents, data and evidence and conduct depositions of federal employees). An EEOC administrative judge decides whether the agency discriminated or retaliated against the complainant and, if so, what relief is appropriate. The administrative judge issues an order and then the agency issues a “final agency decision” either implementing the judge’s order or appealing it. If the complainant disagrees with the final agency decision, the complainant may appeal to the EEOC and/or pursue the case in a trial in federal court.
- File a complaint in federal court. The complainant can skip the above options and demand a trial in federal court. Once a complainant chooses to pursue his or her claims in court, he may no longer seek a hearing before an administrative judge. The relief available in court is the same as the relief available through an administrative judge.
Discrimination in Federal Sector
Federal employees – just like employees in private industry – have a right to be free from discrimination and illegal harassment in the workplace. Federal employees must follow special procedures and rules, however, which are governed by the EEOC.The EEOC’s federal sector program is designed to provide federal employees and applicants with an administrative avenue for pursuing discrimination claims against the federal government – without having to dive into federal court. The EEOC’s federal sector program is less formal than a judicial process, but provides equal relief, which may include damages for lost earnings or other calculable harms, compensation for non-calculable harms like emotional distress and damage to career, reimbursement of leave used because of the discrimination, and attorney fees for successful claims (except in age-based cases).As a general rule, most federal employees must initiate their discrimination claims within forty-five (45) days of the most recent discriminatory event. In contrast, in the private sector, employees have 180 days and often times up to 300 days. The “45-day rule” has some exceptions and does not apply in all cases. (The laws relating to Congressional employees are different and are covered by the Congressional Accountability Act.) An employee is allowed to have an attorney representative throughout the EEO process.To start a discrimination complaint, a federal employee or applicant (or his or her attorney) should contact his or her agency’s EEO office. The EEO office will conduct an in-take session and a 30-day counseling period. An EEO counselor or specialist may gather information and try to resolve the case. It is important that during the counseling phase, the employee or applicant identify each event and action the agency took which was discriminatory or retaliatory.The EEO office is responsible for issuing to the employee – who is now a “complainant” – a notice of right to file a formal complaint. The complainant must file the complaint with the appropriate agency office, identified in the notice, within 15 calendar (not work) days. The complainant must ensure that the EEO office receives the complaint on or before the 15th day or, alternatively, that the complaint is post-marked on or before the 15th day. To ensure that the complaint is properly filed, the complainant should file in such a way that he or she can later prove timely filing, such as certified mail or fax with fax confirmation.After the complainant files the complaint, the EEO office should issue a letter acknowledging the complaint and then another letter accepting and/or dismissing claims identified in the complaint. A complaint can include more than one claim, such as an allegation of a non-promotion and an allegation that the agency failed to provide accommodations for a known medical condition. Assuming the agency accepts at least one claim for investigation, the agency will then investigate the claim. The agency is required to complete its investigation within 180 days (assuming the complainant does not amend the complaint). The agency is not, however, required to use any particular methods for investigating, but must ensure that the resulting investigative report is sufficiently detailed to allow “a reasonable fact finder to draw conclusions as to whether discrimination occurred.”The agency is required to provide the complainant with a copy of the Report of Investigation (ROI) with a notice of “election of remedies.” The election of remedies notifies the complainant that he or she may choose one of three options: a final agency decision; a hearing before an EEOC administrative judge; or a trial in federal court.