Let a Federal Employment Lawyer Help You with the Maryland Federal EEO Complaint Process
Just like your counterparts in the private sector, you have rights against discrimination or retaliation from your employer. But unlike those who work for a company, if you are a federal employee and find yourself the victim of unlawful behavior by the government, there is a special Maryland federal EEO complaint process you must comply with to protect your rights.
This isn’t the most straightforward process and there are several opportunities for potential missteps where you might unknowingly forfeit your chance for a legal recovery.
To prevent this from occurring, it’s a good idea to seek the counsel of a Maryland EEO lawyer. An excellent place to get started is by talking with Jamaal (“Jay”) W. Stafford and his team from the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford.
When Federal Employees Need to Use the EEO Complaint Process
Most federal employees will have access to the EEO complaint process if they find themselves the victim of workplace discrimination. This EEO complaint process will apply if you suffer discrimination in violation of the following federal laws:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (this includes discrimination because of an employee’s race, color, religion, national origin or sex).
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (this law protects employees who are at least 40 years old from age discrimination).
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (this law protects against discrimination because of a disability).
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (this law prohibits wage discrimination based on employee’s sex).
Federal workers can also file a complaint if they suffer retaliation when opposing discrimination or otherwise participating in the EEO complaint process.
If you decide to start the EEO complaint procedures, the first thing you need to do is contact the appropriate EEO Counselor in your agency or department.
The Informal Pre-Complaint Process: Contacting the EEO Counselor
Before you file a formal complaint about discrimination or retaliation, you will need to reach out to your EEO Counselor. You must do this as soon as possible, as the law requires you to make contact within 45 days of the alleged discriminatory or retaliatory incident. This 45-day deadline can be extended in certain situations, but it’s best to be safe and contact your EEO Counselor as soon as you can.
Once you make contact, you will have an initial counseling session with the EEO Counselor. During this session, the EEO Counselor will inform you of your rights, responsibilities and legal options.
Depending on where you work, your agency may offer you the option to choose between counseling or alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation) to resolve your issue. Assuming neither of these procedures can resolve your issue, you can then file the formal complaint.
Filing a Formal Complaint
Should you decide to escalate your situation, you must file your complaint within 15 days after your EEO Counselor provides notice on how to do so. You will file the complaint with the agency that engaged in the alleged discrimination against you.
In the complaint, you will need to include the following information:
- A signed statement by you (or your attorney) that sets out what happened and why you are filing a complaint.
- A telephone number and address where you can be reached. If you have a lawyer representing you, you can provide your lawyer’s contact information instead.
Dismissing the Complaint
After you file the complaint, the agency will do a quick review to see if your complaint should be dismissed. For the most part, the agency will make sure you followed all of the procedural rules. For example, your complaint could potentially be dismissed for any of the following reasons:
- Fails to make an allegation that’s appropriate for the EEO complaint process.
- Filed too late.
- Filed in bad faith and represents a “pattern of misuse of the EEO process.”
Should the agency not have a reason for dismissing your complaint, the agency will complete an investigation into your allegations within 180 days from the date you filed the complaint. However, the agency may request additional time to continue the investigation.
During this investigation, an investigator may ask you or your agency to produce documents and other testimonial evidence. This includes taking sworn statements from witnesses. The failure to cooperate with the investigator can compromise your case and lead to adverse inferences. What’s an adverse inference? Let’s look at a hypothetical to illustrate.
Imagine the investigator were to ask you for a copy of a letter you claim serves as an example of your boss discriminating against you. Unfortunately, you can’t find a copy of the letter. The person who hears your case may be able to assume two possible things about the letter you can’t provide.
First, they can assume that had you produced the letter, it would not have contained the statements you claim.
Second, they can also assume that if the letter exists, it would say the exact opposite of what you claim.
After completing the investigation, you will be provided a copy of the investigative file and have the option of choosing between either a hearing before a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Administrative Judge or have the agency that conducted the investigation go ahead and issue a final decision concerning your complaint. If you choose either of these options, you must do so within 30 days of receiving the investigative file
Final Agency Decision
If you decide not to have a hearing and instead ask your agency to make a final decision and you agree with the decision, the EEO complaint process is over. If you disagree with all or part of the final agency decision, you can decide between filing an appeal or filing a civil lawsuit in federal district court.
A Hearing Before an EEOC Administrative Judge
A hearing request must be made within 30 days from the day you receive notice from your agency about your right to a hearing.
Before the hearing takes place, all parties will have the opportunity to complete discovery. Unless you and your agency agree otherwise, you must first get permission from the Administrative Judge before conducting any discovery. The Administrative Judge will also have the power to limit the scope and time for discovery.
The hearing will be similar to a mini-trial, except there is no jury and it is not open to the public. The Administrative Judge has the right to dismiss your complaint before a hearing, limit the extent of the hearing or call off the hearing if they deem there’s no disagreement among the parties as to key facts in the case.
After the hearing, the Administrative Judge will make a decision within 180 days after it received a copy of the complaint from your agency. After issuing this decision, it will then be sent to your agency to issue a final order.
Offer of Resolution
Before the hearing takes place, your agency may try to settle the matter by offering a resolution. If your agency makes you an offer of resolution, seriously consider it.
If you decline it, and it turns out that what you end up getting later on during the EEO complaint process is less than what you were offered by your agency, then you may not be eligible to recover attorney’s fees and costs. However, this only applies to the legal costs that you incur after your opportunity to accept the agency’s offer of resolution.
The Final Order
Within 40 days of receipt of the Administrative Judge’s decision, your agency will have to issue its final order. If it does not, then the Administrative Judge’s decision will become your agency’s final order by default.
In this final order, your agency may agree with the Administrative Judge’s decision and implement the relief ordered. If your agency does not agree with the Administrative Judge’s decision (or disagrees with it in part), it may refuse to implement some or all of the Administrative Judge’s order. If your agency chooses to disagree with the Administrative Judge, it must file an appeal to the EEOC.
The final order from your agency will also include information about your rights concerning the ability to file an appeal to the EEOC or bring a civil suit in federal district court.
Filing an Appeal to the EEOC
Appeals of your agency’s final order go to the EEOC Office of Federal Operations. You have 30 days after you receive the agency’s final order to file your appeal.
The EEOC will review everything about your case, including the investigative file, the Administrative Judge’s decision and a transcript from your hearing (if you had one).
If you do not agree with the EEOC after it decides your appeal, you can ask for reconsideration. You have 30 days after receiving the EEOC’s decision of your appeal to make this request.
Reconsideration is granted if you can demonstrate that there has been a mistake of fact or law as applied to your facts.
A Maryland Federal Employment Lawyer Can Help with Filing a Civil Lawsuit in Federal District Court
In most employment discrimination actions brought under federal law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, you can’t just go straight to federal court and sue your employer. You have to first exhaust your administrative remedies.
Luckily, this doesn’t mean you have to go through the entire EEO complaint process outlined above. But you will have to go through part of it.
At certain points of the EEO complaint process, you will have the opportunity to begin litigating in court. These points include:
- Your agency has not issued a decision, no appeal has been filed and it’s been 180 days since you filed your complaint.
- You received your agency's decision concerning your complaint and no appeal has been filed.
- You appealed your case to the EEOC 180 days ago, but they have not issued a decision.
- You received the EEOC's decision concerning your appeal.
Get Help from a Maryland Federal EEO Attorney
If you think you may be the victim of workplace discrimination or retaliation, then you might consider going through the EEO complaint process. But as you’ve just read, this can be a complicated and lengthy ordeal. Therefore, you probably have plenty of questions.
To help you understand how to make the most of an EEO complaint, contact the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford. You will have the opportunity to speak with knowledgeable Maryland federal EEO lawyers and figure out what your next steps should be.