Federal Workers: Your Rights and the EEOC Process

August 23, 2017
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

The EEOC is an agency that was created to protect the rights of the American workforce. Those employed by the federal government are also protected from workplace discrimination based on one of several protected classes. Federal employees are protected from unfair treatment based on their:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy)
  • National Origin
  • Age (over age 40)
  • Disability
  • Genetic Information

Claims for discrimination require two basic prongs.

  1. Harm caused by discrimination
  2. Employee membership in a protected class

Discrimination claims may arise in several ways. Sometimes direct discrimination occurs and the employee may be able to prove it. However, there are several other ways that federal employees may be able to make their case.

Disparate Treatment

This differs from the direct discrimination described above. In these cases, a worker may claim that they have been treated differently than employees in another group because of their protected class identity. For example, if a female employee is passed over for a promotion when male employees who are less qualified are promoted above her, she may have a claim for disparate treatment.


Harassment occurs when a worker experiences negative, inappropriate or unreasonable behavior in the workplace which causes harm to a worker because of their membership in a protected class.


Federal workers are protected from acts of retaliation that occur as a result of exercising their rights to pursue an EEO protected action like filing or participating in an EEO investigation.

Disparate Impact

In cases of disparate impact, the discrimination might not be purposeful or invidious, but a work policy or practice may have a disproportionate impact on members of a protected class.

Failure to Provide a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disability Under the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers provide a reasonable accommodation for workers with disabilities.  Federal workers are protected from disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Federal Sector Complaint Process

The complaint process is important for federal employees to understand. Each step needs to be followed before a complaint can move to the next level of review.

  1. Contact an EEO Counselor at the federal agency or office where you work. You must contact the EEO Counselor within 45 days of the day that the discrimination incident occurred.  The EEO Counselor will try to help you resolve the conflict through participating in EEO counseling or it may be resolved through alternative dispute resolution.
  2. If no resolution is reached, the next step is to file a formal discrimination claim. This claim must be filed within 15 days from the day your EEO Counselor gives you notice about how to file. The agency will review the complaint about procedural issues, so timeliness is crucial.
  3. The EEOC conducts an investigation which must occur within 180 days from the day the complaint was filed.
  4. After the investigation, the agency will inform you that you may request a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge, or in the alternative, you may ask the agency to issue a decision (which counts as a final action).
  5. After your final decision is issued by the Administrative Judge or the agency, there is an opportunity for appeal. Appeals must be filed no later than 30 days after the receipt of the final order.  If the appeal is unsuccessful, then reconsideration of appeal is available (which must be requested within 30 days of the appeal decision).
  6. Once the entire EEOC process is complete, you may be able to file a federal lawsuit in court. There are special circumstances when you may be able to file the federal lawsuit before agency review is completed, which you may discuss with a Baltimore Employment Attorney.

Attorney Jamaal (“Jay”) W. Stafford helps federal employees navigate the complicated discrimination review process. We take your rights as a federal employee seriously. If you’ve been the victim of discrimination in your federal workplace, don’t hesitate to contact us via our website or to call us at 410-514-6099 to talk about your matter.