Frequently Asked Questions
Civil Rights (CR) and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Complaint Processes
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the difference between a Program Discrimination Complaint and an EEO Complaint?
Program Discrimination Complaint (Title VI)– A complaint filed for relief from a discriminatory action in regards to any program that receives Federal financial assistance from USDA believed to be based on race, color, religious creed, sex, political beliefs, age, disability, national origin, or limited English proficiency. Not all bases apply to all programs.
EEO Complaint (Title VII) – A complaint filed for relief from a discriminatory employment practice (any term or condition of employment including but not limited to: hiring, firing, compensation, assignment, employee classification, transfer, promotion, layoff, separation, recruitment, training, benefits, pay, etc.) believed to be based on one or more of the following prohibited bases: race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (40+), physical or mental disability, retaliation (for prior participation in the equal employment opportunity complaint process), sexual orientation*, marital or family status*, political beliefs*, parental status*, and/or protected genetic information*. [*Prohibited bases recognized by USDA]
2. Who can file an EEO complaint?
Any employee, former employee, or applicant for employment in NRCS who believes he/she was subjected to prohibited discrimination.
3. How does EEO apply to me as an employee, former employee, or applicant for employment?
Employers cannot discriminate in deciding any term or condition of employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, marital or familial status, political beliefs, parental status, protected genetic information or reprisal for engaging in prior EEO activity. Federal laws do not give preferential treatment to any person because they belong to any protected class; the laws provide everyone with the same opportunities.
4. How many days do I have to file an EEO Complaint if I think I have been discriminated against?
An employee or applicant, who believes he/she has been discriminated against, must contact the NRCS, Civil Rights Division, within 45 calendar days of the alleged discriminatory event or from when he/she becomes aware that a discriminatory event has occurred to file an EEO complaint.
5. Who can file a program discrimination complaint?
Any person as a participant in or applicant for any federally assisted or federally conducted program or activity has the right to be treated fairly. If any applicant, recipient, or beneficiary of these programs or activities believes he/she was subjected to prohibited discrimination (treated unfairly) because of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or because all or a part of his/her income is derived from any public assistance program, a discrimination complaint may be filed.
6. Can I file a formal complaint directly with USDA?
No. An individual can not file a formal complaint directly with USDA. An employee or applicant must first make a good faith effort to resolve the complaint in the Pre-Complaint process before filing formally. The only exceptions are for individuals alleging discrimination based on age or the equal pay act, which claims can be filed directly with a court.
7. Who does the EEO Counselor represent when a complaint is filed?
The EEO Counselor remains neutral as he/she processes a complaint of alleged discrimination and does not represent either party (employee or management).
8. Can I withdraw my complaint after it is filed?
Yes. An active Pre-Complaint or formal complaint can be closed, by the individual that initiated the complaint, at any time during the process.
9. When can I file a formal complaint with USDA?
If a resolution is not reached in the Pre-Complaint process, then the EEO Counselor will issued a Notice of Right to File (NRF) letter to the individual. The individual will have 15 calendar days after he/she receives the NRF, to file a formal complaint with the OASCR.
10. What happens after I file a formal complaint with USDA?
OASCR will review the individual’s complaint and make a determination of whether to accept or dismiss the complaint. If the complaint is accepted, a thorough investigation will be conducted and a report of investigation (ROI) is developed. A copy of the ROI will be given to the individual or his/her representative and to OASCR. After the individual receives the ROI, he/she will be given the following options: (1) Withdraw his/her formal complaint; (2) request a final agency decision (FAD) from USDA; or (3) request a hearing by an EEOC Administrative Judge.
11. How can I get status on my formal complaint filed with USDA?
An individual can obtain status on his/her formal complaint by calling the Customer Service Unit at (800) 795-3272 or writing to USDA, Office of Adjudication and Compliance, Chief, Employment Complaints Division, Reporters Building, Room #607, 300 7th Street SW, Washington, DC 20024.
12. What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?
ADR is a term used to describe a series of non-adversarial processes which assists participants in resolving their disputes quickly and efficiently.
13. What is Mediation?
Mediation is an informal, but structured form of alternative dispute resolution in which one or more impartial neutrals intervenes in a conflict and assists the participants in reaching a mutually satisfactory resolution.
14. Who is the Mediator?
The mediator is a person who serves as an impartial facilitator (neutral third party) between participants who are experiencing conflict in an attempt to assist them in resolving a dispute.
15. What is the goal of Mediation?
The goal of mediation is to improve or restore working relationships, foster better communication between the participants and to effect a long lasting solution to the issues, usually through the use of a written agreement that each party signs.
16. Will the Mediator(s) impose a decision?
No, Mediator(s) do not impose decisions on the participants, but create a "safe" environment for the participants to hear each other out, express their issues, concerns and feelings, share information, and address underlying needs and problems.
17. Where is the mediation conducted?
Mediation proceedings will take place in a neutral setting and will not normally be held in the workplace of either party to the mediation.
18. What is the difference between an EEO Complaint and an administrative Grievance?
When an employee believes that they have been treated unfairly in reference to an employment action based on a prohibited basis, one would contact an EEO Counselor within 45 days of the act. When an employee feels that they have suffered from unfair work related treatment, one would present his/her grievance to their lowest level official with decision authority within 15 days of the act.
For more detailed prohibited discrimination complaints information, you may access the Department’s Program Discrimination Complaint process information or the Civil Rights Division Employment Complaints Team.