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Employment Complaint Resolutions


Equal Employment Opportunity at EPA

The EPA cannot and will not tolerate discrimination based on the protected bases of race; color; religion; sex, including pregnancy, sex stereotyping, gender identity or gender expression; national origin; sexual orientation; sex stereotyping, physical or mental disability; age; protected genetic information; status as a parent marital status; political affiliation; or retaliation based on previous Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activity. The EPA also will not tolerate any type of harassment - either sexual or nonsexual - of any employee or applicant for employment. 

EPA protects employees or applicants for employment from discrimination in employment activities, including but not limited to:

  • Recruitment
  • Hiring
  • Promotion
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Training
  • Other employment terms, conditions and privileges
  • Harassment
  • Retaliation - adverse action taken because an applicant or employee asserted rights under Title VII or participated in an EEOC proceeding such as testifying and assisting
  • Segregation and Classification
  • Pre-employment inquiries and requirements - nothing should be required that tends to disclose a protected basis
  • Religious practices that don't impose an undue hardship on an employer

The Office of Civil Rights  (OCR) administers and ensures Agency compliance with the laws, regulations, policies, and guidance that prohibit discrimination in the Federal workplace.

 
 

Who do I contact

If you believe you have been discriminated against, you must contact your Regional or Lab Office of Civil Rights within 45 calendar days of the alleged discriminatory event. For personnel actions (such as promotions, failure to receive a within grade increase, reassignment, non-selection, etc.), you must contact your Regional or Lab Office of Civil rights no later than 45 calendar days from the effective date of the alleged discriminatory personnel action.
 

Headquarter's employees should call Cynthia Darden, Assistant Director, at 202-564-1587 or via email at darden.cynthia@epa.gov in order to start the complaint process.

 


Counseling 

Once you have contacted the Office of Civil Rights, you will be assigned an EEO Counselor. The EEO Counselor serves as a neutral party and is not an advocate for either management or the employee filing a complaint.   The Counselors main role is to explore options for resolution of the issues involved. EEO counseling is an essential part of the federal system for processing and resolving employee and applicant EEO concerns. The opportunity for informal resolution at an early stage is an important feature of the counseling stage.  If resolution is not achieved, the counselor plays a vital role in ensuring prompt and efficient processing of the discrimination complaint.
 
During counseling, the EEO Counselor will advise individuals in writing of their rights and responsibilities, explain the complaint process, and conduct a limited inquiry into the allegations presented. This inquiry may involve interviews with employees, management officials or persons the counselor determines may have some firsthand knowledge of the allegations. 
 
Counseling is normally completed within 30 calendar days. The time period for counseling may be extended for an additional 60 calendar days upon the written request of the employee and the agreement of the servicing EEO office.    
 
If the EEO Counselor is unable to help you come to a resolution, you will be given a Notice of Right to File a Formal Discrimination Complaint. You will have 15 calendar after receipt of that notice to file a Formal Complaint of Discrimination with the Office of Civil Rights at Headquarters. Formal Complaints of Discrimination should be addressed to:
 
Cynthia Darden, Assistant Director,
Office of Civil Rights- Mailcode 1201A
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20460-0001.
 
 

Alternative Dispute Resolution

During the counseling stage of the complaint process, you will be offered the option of using Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as a means of resolving the complaint. The EPA promotes the use of alternative dispute resolution methods to resolve EEO complaints. Managers are reminded that their participation in agency-approved alternative dispute resolution efforts to resolve employee EEO complaints is required, absent extraordinary circumstances as determined by the Office of Civil Rights' Director or designee.
 
There are several ADR models available. Mediation is typically the model used in the EEO complaint process. Mediation is an informal meeting between the parties that is conducted by a neutral mediator.  A mediator is trained to help people who have disagreements talk to each other. The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong or issue a decision.  Instead, the mediator helps the parties work out their own solutions to their dispute.    
The OCR ADR program manager will find a qualified mediator through the Federal Sharing Neutrals (“FSN”) Program, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.  FSN members are federal employees who mediate on a collateral duty basis or government retirees who volunteer their services. All neutrals used by FSN have the training and experience necessary to conduct effective process, are committed to act impartially at all times and will maintain the confidentiality of the process.  
 
After a situation is determined appropriate for ADR, the ADR coordinator will coordinate with the parties to schedule an ADR session at a mutually agreeable time and location. Participants in ADR may choose to bring a representative to the meeting. This representative may be a friend, family member, union representative or attorney. If one of the participants is a management official, he/she may be accompanied by an Agency attorney or labor relations specialist.  
 
During an ADR session, each party to the conflict will have the opportunity to explain their perspectives. The neutrals will help the parties identify the key issues and explore ways to mutually satisfy their important interests. During the ADR process, there may be the need for the neutral and the participants to have private discussions, this is called a caucus; this is an opportunity to discuss issues they do not wish to disclose in joint session. If an ADR session results in reaching an agreement, the neutrals will prepare a written draft of the agreement with the participants’ help. A draft does not constitute an agreement unless the parties agree to the written terms and affirm with their signature.  The terms of any written agreement will have to be reviewed by an EPA representative to ensure it is consistent with applicable laws, regulations and bargaining agreements.
 
Typically, all aspects of ADR are voluntary, including the content of any final agreement.  Complainants can choose to end ADR at any time.  There is no penalty for declining to participate or declining to continue participation in an ADR session.  
 
If attempts to informally resolve the allegation are unsuccessful, you be provided, in writing, a notice that counseling has been completed and will be issued a Notice of Right to File a Formal Complaint. You will have 15 calendar days from the date of receipt of the notice to submit the discrimination complaint in writing, by mail or in person, to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  
 

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Formal Complaint  

If the employee decides to file a formal complaint, the Employment Complaints Resolution Staff (ECRS) at the Office of Civil Rights Headquarters office will send the employee a letter acknowledging receipt of the complaint and assigning the complaint an official case number. ECRS will then review the complaint to determine if the Agency and the Complainant have met the procedural requirements established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) i.e. was the complaint timely filed, was the complaint brought to the attention of an EEO Counselor, etc. 
 
After the formal complaint has been thoroughly reviewed, ECRS will send a second letter advising the Complainant whether all procedural requirements have been met. This letter will also identify the allegations the Agency will investigate and/or those allegations the Agency will not investigate. 
 

Mailings to Complainants

Until further notice, the Office of Civil Rights will send all Title VII complaint correspondence to the email provided by Complainants.  Each email will request a confirmation of receipt from each individual listed in the “To” section of the email.  OCR will also tag each email to internal EPA employees with delivery and read receipts.  This method of transmitting documents will allow OCR to continue to be timely in our responses and processing matters related to Title VII.   

Incoming Complaints

Those wishing  to file a formal complaint will be directed to send their notice to  Cynthia Darden, Assistant Director, Employment Complaints  Resolution Staff, Office of Civil Rights at darden.cynthia@epa.gov and cc Renee Clark at clark.renee@epa.gov.  OCR will send a confirmation receipt once received.

  

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Investigation

 
If the complaint is accepted, it will be investigated.  The investigation will be factually thorough, impartial, and completed within 180 calendar days from the date of the filing of your discrimination complaint. This means identifying and obtaining all relevant evidence from all sources regardless of how it may affect the outcome. The proper scope of an investigation is dictated by the facts at issue.  An appropriate investigation is one that allows a reasonable fact finder to draw conclusions as to whether discrimination occurred. 
 
Following the investigation, you will be provided with a copy of the report of investigation (ROI). You have 30 calendar days after receipt of the ROI to request either a hearing on the merits of your discrimination complaint at a district office of the EEOC or an immediate Final Agency Decision (FAD) from the Agency.  If you elect a hearing, your ROI will be reviewed by an EEOC Administrative Judge who will decide whether discrimination has occured and order  remedies and relief in accordance with regulations. If you elect a FAD, the Director of OCR will decide whether discrimination has occured and order remedies and relief in accordance with regulations. 
 

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Hearing

Hearings are typically conducted at the EEOC’s district or field office serving the community where the complaint arose.  The Administrative Judge’s (AJ) office will communicate directly with the Complainant and the appropriate agency attorney concerning dates, times, location and all other particulars of the hearing. The AJ will issue a decision based on the investigative report and any testimony provided during the hearing. The Order issued by the AJ will provide guidance to the Complainant and the Agency on appeal rights.    
 

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Final Agency Decision  

If no election for a hearing is made in the requisite time, the Agency is obligated to issue a Final Agency Decision (FAD). The final decision consists of findings by the Agency on the merits of each allegation in the complaint, or as appropriate the rationale for dismissing any allegations and when discrimination is found, appropriate.  The final action shall contain notice of the right to appeal the final agency decision to the EEOC, the right to file a civil action in federal district court and the applicable time limits for appeals and lawsuits.  

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Frequent Questions about the Discrimination Complaint Process

  1. Who may file a descriminiation complaint?
    Answer: Any employee, former employee, or applicant for employment who believes they have been discriminated against may file a discrimination complaint.

  2. What is covered under the discrimination complaint process?
    Answer: Discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability are prohibited by law. Retaliation against an employee for filing an EEO complaint or participating in the EEO process is also prohibited.

  3. When must allegations of discrimination be raised?
    Answer: An individual must seek counseling with an EEO Counselor within 45 calendar days of the date of an alleged act of discrimination. Some circumstances may permit allegations to be raised after the 45 day time limit; please contact OCR for advice.

  4. How do I obtain an EEO Counselor?
    Answer: Headquarters Employees contact the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at (202) 564-7272 (Voice) or (202) 501-1822 (TDD). EPA Regional and Area Office Employees contact the Equal Employment Officer for your Region or your Area Director. Please contact the appropriate office within 45 days of the date of the alleged discriminatory incident, or effective date of the alleged discriminatory personnel action. An EEO counselor will be assigned to you to attempt to facilitate resolution of your allegations.

  5. What information should I present to the EEO Counselor?
    Answer:When discussing your allegations with an EEO Counselor, be prepared to make the following statement: "I was treated differently because of my [basis(es)] when on [date of event], the following happened [issue(s)]." Be prepared to discuss what remedies could resolve the issue(s). Supporting documentation and names of witnesses are also helpful information to present to the EEO Counselor.

  6. What happens if my issue(s) are resolved in EEO counseling?
    Answer: The resolution will be documented by the EEO Counselor in a Resolution Agreement which is signed by the aggrieved individual and a representative of EPA management indicating that the matter is closed.

  7. How do I file a discrimination complaint?
    Answer: If your allegation(s) are not resolved during EEO Counseling, after receipt of the "Notice of Final Interview", you may file a discrimination complaint. You must file your discrimination complaint within 15 calendar days of receipt of the Notice of Final Interview. Please note that a discrimination complaint must be signed and in writing.

  8. What is Official Time in EEO Process?
    Answer: 29 CFR § 1614.605(b) provides, in part: “If the complainant is an employee of the agency, he or she shall have a reasonable amount of official time, if otherwise on duty, to prepare the complaint and to respond to agency and EEOC requests for information.”

  9. Who is entitled to Official Time in the EEO Process?
    Answer: Both the EEO complainant and the representative, if they are employees of the agency where the complaint arose and was filed, are entitled to a reasonable amount of Official Time to present the complaint and to respond to agency requests for information, if otherwise on duty. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.605(b). This time is different than official time for union representatives, which is authorized under 5 USC § 7131 and agency collective bargaining agreements. Although union stewards may have done so in the past, this time cannot be counted under “union official time” under the AFGE CBA. Witnesses who are federal employees, regardless of whether they are employed by the respondent agency or some other federal agency, shall be in a duty status when their presence is authorized or required by Commission or agency officials in connection with the complaint.

  10. How should Official Time be requested?
    Answer: Requests for Official Time should be made to your immediate supervisor. Employees should be asking for this time in advance of taking it, much like they do for any other absence from the office. When recording this time in People Plus, it should be recorded as regular time as we have no code for “EEOC official time” (either for Complainants or their employee-representatives). 

  11. Is the Agency permitted to deny a request for Official Time?
    Answer: Yes, however steps must be followed to do so. Specifically, if the agency denies a request for Official Time, either in whole or in part, it must include a written statement in the complaint file noting the reasons for the denial. If the agency’s denial of Official Time is made during the formal stage or investigation, the agency (complainant’s manager shall provide the complainant with a written explanation for the denial and the complainant shall provide the statement their case manager to be added to the Report of Investigation. If the agency's denial of Official Time is made before the complaint is filed, the agency shall provide the complainant with a written explanation for the denial, which it will include in the complaint file if the complainant subsequently files a complaint. Where a request for Official Time is denied in whole or part while an Administrative Judge is presiding over the matter, a copy of the agency's denial of Official Time with the requisite explanation should be provided to the Administrative Judge when provided to the requestor.

  12. What is the amount of Official Time to which an employee is entitled?
    Answer: Both the complainant and the representative, if they are employees of the agency where the complaint arose and was filed, are entitled to a reasonable amount of Official Time to present the complaint and to respond to agency requests for information, if otherwise on duty. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.605(b). "Reasonable" is defined as whatever is appropriate, under the particular circumstances of the complaint, in order to allow a complete presentation of the relevant information associated with the complaint and to respond to agency requests for information. The actual number of hours to which complainant and his/her representative are entitled will vary, depending on the nature and complexity of the complaint, the mission of the agency, and the agency's need to have its employees available to perform their normal duties on a regular basis. The complainant and the agency should arrive at a mutual understanding as to the amount of Official Time to be used prior to the complainant's use of such time. Time spent commuting to and from home should not be included in Official Time computations because all employees are required to commute to and from their federal employment on their own time.

  13. Who can be a representative for an aggrieved individual or complainant?
    Answer: At any stage in the process, an EEO complainant is entitled to the representative of his or her choosing (unless there is a conflict of interest) and “the complainant shall have the right to be accompanied, represented, and advised” by that representative. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.605(a). There is no requirement that the representative be an attorney and the representative may be an employee of the same agency as the complainant. The use of layperson representatives is permitted in the EEO process and is common on the part of both the employees and agencies.

  14. How does the Supervisor of the EEO Representative validate that this is an actual/ legitimate EEO Case?
    Answer: At any point, a supervisor or manager may contact her/his local EEO officials for guidance about any stage of the complaint or request a status update about a complaint in which s/he was named as a responsible management official. Similarly, any supervisor or manager when identified as an alleged responsible official in a discrimination complaint may seek guidance or advice from Agency legal counsel regarding the EEO process.

  15. Are complainants and representatives allowed to use government property for the purposes of the EEO Process?
    Answer: The complainant or complainant's non-attorney representative's use of government property (copiers, telephones, word processors, computers, internet, printers, and email) must be authorized by their immediate supervisor prior to their use and must not cause undue disruption of agency operations. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA or Agency) intent in authorizing limited personal use of Government office equipment is to provide you with a professional and supportive work environment while meeting taxpayer expectations that tax dollars will be spent wisely. https://www.epa.gov/irmpoli8/epas-policy-permitting-limited-personal-use-government-office-equipment-epa-employees.

  16. Who should managers and employees contact with additional questions regarding Official Time in the EEO Process?
    Answer: EPA has designated EEO Officers in the Regions or the Assistant Director for Employment Complaints and Resolution in Headquarters (HQ) to assist management and employees with this process. For more information regarding the official time in the EEO Process please contact your local EEO Officer or the Office of Civil Rights in HQ at 202-564-7272.
If you have any questions or need further information about the EEO process, please feel free to contact your local EEO Office or the Headquarters, Office of Civil Rights.