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Discrimination Protection Basis

An individual who feels that she or he has been discriminated against because of one or more of the above bases, he or she can file an EEO complaint to seek resolution. The EEO complaint process is as follows:

The Informal Stage

To begin the complaint process, the complainant must contact an EEO Counselor within 45 calendar days of the alleged discriminatory act or the date s/he became aware of the act.

View the OCFO EEO Counselor Contacts.

Once contact is made, a counselor will attempt to resolve the problem, and this period is known as the "counseling stage" or "informal stage." The EEO Counselor has 30 days to seek resolution of the complaint, but this timeframe can be extended up to 90 days with the complainant's permission. EEO Counselors act as an objective and neutral third party, neither advocating for the complainant nor the Agency; the focus is on resolving the issue giving rise to the complaint.

Agencies must offer Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in the EEO Counseling stage. If the complainant selects ADR, an independent mediator will work with the complainant and management to reach a mutually acceptable solution. The complainant can participate in ADR with no negative impact on his or her rights in the EEO process. If a solution is not reached, the complaint process can continue.

In the event that the complaint is not resolved in the counseling stage, the EEO Counselor will issue a Notice of Right to File (NRF) to the complainant. The NRF explains the complainant's right to file a formal EEO complaint and the procedure for doing so.

The Formal Stage

If the complainant wishes to continue the complaint, s/he must file a formal complaint with the USDA Office of Adjudication within 15 calendar days of receipt of the NRF. Formal complaints must meet certain criteria to be accepted for investigation, such as being timely filed, having been through the informal stage, meeting all of the required time limits, and cooperating with EEO officials. Complaints that are dismissed by USDA may be appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If the complaint is accepted, USDA will obtain a contract investigator to gather information regarding the complaint. The investigator will gather any pertinent information and documents, and obtain affidavits from individuals having information relevant to the complaint.

After the investigation is completed, the complainant receives a copy of the Report of Investigation (ROI), and has thirty days to decide whether to request a final agency decision (FAD) from USDA or to request a hearing by an EEOC Administrative Judge prior to the FAD (Note that some bases of discrimination are not eligible for hearings). After a hearing, the Administrative Judge issues a decision which USDA will consider in deciding the FAD. After receiving a FAD, the complainant may file an appeal with the EEOC or may file a civil action.

View a diagram of the complaint process.

Official Time for EEO Complaints

Complainants are allowed time during work hours to meet with EEO officials in the EEO complaint process, and a limited amount of time of preparation time. For further information, view the Official EEO Complaint Timeline.

Additional Resources

Last Updated / Reviewed: March 15, 2022