Legal Insider: Federal employee EEO complaints — some basics

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq

Federal employees facing discrimination or retaliation cases must use specific processes in order to file their complaints. This article covers some of the basic issues involved in the federal employee Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) process. Please visit our webpage for more information.

Grounds for an EEO Claim

Federal employee EEO complaints can involve a range of discriminatory conduct by federal agencies. These can include discrimination on the basis of age, disability, race, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information and national origin. In addition, EEO complaints can also involve a hostile work environment, sexual harassment and retaliation.

Sample EEO Complaints

Some of the more common EEO claims brought by federal employees are demonstrated in the following five hypothetical scenarios:

  • Example A: Federal employee is sexually harassed at work by her supervisor. The supervisor then asks the federal employee on a date. When the federal employee refuses her supervisor’s advances, she is then proposed for a suspension by the same supervisor for alleged misconduct. The federal employee brings a claim for sexual harassment.
  • Example B: Federal employee has previously filed an EEO complaint against his supervisor for discrimination. A year later, the federal employee discovers that his promotion was denied by this same supervisor because they were upset that the federal employee had filed the earlier EEO complaint. The federal employee brings a claim for retaliation.
  • Example C: Federal employee takes sick leave related to treatment for heart disease. Upon the employee’s return, her supervisor gives the employee a bad performance evaluation for having bad performance. The federal employee claims disability discrimination.
  • Example D: Federal employee takes sick leave due to a recent car accident and requires a lot of time out of the office for physical therapy. The federal employee is also unable to perform some of her duties as she recovers, including the lifting of boxes for a limited period of time. The federal employee asks her supervisor for modifications to her duties (a reasonable accommodation), but the supervisor refuses to modify the employee’s schedule without reason. The federal employee claims disability discrimination for her agency’s failure to accommodate her serious medical condition.
  • Example E: 62-year-old federal employee is competing for a promotion to a GS-14 position. This federal employee competes against two other employees, both under the age of 40, for the same position. The 62-year-old federal employee is ultimately not selected for the position. The federal employee later discovers that the selecting official expressed concerns about the individual being 62 years old because they might retire sooner than the younger applicants. The 62-year-old federal employee claims age discrimination.

EEO Complaint Deadlines

Typically, a federal employee only has 45 days from the date of discrimination to contact an EEO counselor at the federal agency to initiate the informal EEO complaint process. If a complaint is not timely initiated, the federal employee may be time-barred from filing an EEO complaint. Timing can be extended in some unique cases, but it is critical to be aware of the time limits in filing EEO cases.

Potential EEO Remedies

There are a number of potential remedies for federal employee EEO violations. Remedies for illegal discrimination and retaliation caused by federal agencies involve several types of potential monetary relief, including lost back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. Non-monetary remedies can include the clearing of negative performance records and disciplinary actions, transfers and promotions.

The EEO Process

Typically, once a federal employee initiates contact with an EEO counselor regarding an informal complaint, assuming there is no earlier resolution or settlement, the next steps include: (1) the filing of a formal EEO complaint, (2) the investigation of the EEO complaint, (3) either a request for a decision on the EEO complaint from the federal agency or a request for a full hearing before a federal administrative judge and (4) proceeding to a hearing on the merits. In our experience, many discrimination cases are settled with federal agencies during the EEOC hearing process prior to the hearing stage.

Additional EEO Information

Federal employees can find more detailed information about filing EEO complaints at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) website.

Contact Us

Our law firm represents and advises federal employees in EEO and other employment matters. If you need legal assistance regarding an EEO complaint or other employment matter, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation.