Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)

About the EEOC

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws regarding particular types of discrimination.  EEOC laws apply to all federal agencies and many state and local agencies.  If you aren’t sure whether your agency qualifies, contact an EEOC field office as soon as possible for assistance. The EEOC handles claims of discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race;                                                    
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • Sex (including pregnancy);
  • National origin;
  • Age (40 or older);
  • Disability;
  • Genetic information; or
  • Having previously complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Discrimination can occur at any stage of employment, including recruitment, job application, pre-employment inquiries, training and apprenticeship, hiring, terms and conditions of employment, harassment, pay and benefits, job referrals, assignments and promotions, discipline and discharge, employment references, dress codes, reasonable accommodation for disability or religion, constructive discharge or forcing resignations.

PEER typically does not handle EEO cases unless the case has clear connection to an environmental issue. If you feel you have a claim, please consult your EEO office, and/or speak with an experienced attorney. A directory of EEO practitioners representing employees can be found at the National Employment Lawyers Association website.

The EEO Process for Federal Employees

If you believe you experienced discrimination of one of these types in most cases, with some exceptions, you must initiate the EEOC process within 45 days of the alleged discrimination. The EEO process for federal employees can involve several steps before finally obtaining relief.

It is important to allege ALL the harms, issues, and bases of discrimination in the informal complaint process or during counseling, or you might lose the right to argue them later on. Similarly, review the EEO’s website and comply with all deadlines.

Step One
Contact an EEO Counselor

Contact an EEO Counselor at the agency where you work or where you applied for a job. The EEO Counselor will likely give you the option to participate in EEO counseling or an alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) program, such as mediation.

If you do not settle the dispute through counseling or ADR, theEEO Counselor will give you a notice explaining how to file a formal discrimination complaint with the agency’s EEO Office.

Step Two
File a formal complaint of discrimination and agency investigation

Within 15 days from the day you received notice, file a formal complaint of discrimination. The agency will review it and might dismiss for a procedural reason (ex., lateness in filing). Otherwise, it will investigate and must finish that investigation within 180 days from the day you filed your complaint.The agency will issue a notice giving you two choices:

  1. Ask the agency to issue a decision. If you take this option and disagree with the result, you can appeal to EEOC or challenge the decision in federal district court.
  2. Request a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge. You must do this in writing within 30 days from the day you receive the notice from the agency about your rights.
Step Three
Hearing before an EEOC administrative judge
EEOC Administrative Judge conducts the hearing, makes a decision, and orders relief if discrimination is found. The agency then has 40 days to review and respond to this decision with a “final order.”
Step Four
Appeal on the final order
You may appeal an agency’s final order (including one dismissing your complaint) to EEOC Office of Federal Operations. You must file your appeal no later than 30 days after you receive the final order. EEOC appellate attorneys will review the entire file and make a decision.
Step Five
Request Reconsideration
You may request reconsideration, which will be granted only if you can show that the decision was based on a mistake about the facts of the case or the law applied to the facts. You must do this with 30 days of receiving the appeal decision. Reconsideration requests are very rarely granted.
Step Six
File a lawsuit
If the EEOC denies reconsideration, you can bring a lawsuit in federal court.


State and Local Employees

The process is different for federal employees than for state / local government employees. State and local employees must a file a charge of discrimination, after which they may participate in mediation efforts.  If these fail, the EEOC will take a look at the charge to ensure it has jurisdiction and, if so, will conduct an investigation.  If the EEOC finds no violation of the law, it will send you a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue, which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.  Please check the EEOC website for more information.