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Discrimination Claims for Federal Employees

Posted by attorney Joshua Bernstein

Unlike most employees, federal employees who believe they have been the victim of discrimination have recourse solely to federal law, even if they live in a city or state with more protective civil rights statutes. Moreover, federal employees must use internal complaint and resolution mechanisms prior to filing suit, or else they will face the fairly ironclad defense of "administrative exhaustion". The following provides an outline for how federal employees can file a discrimination claim.

  1. Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) representative within your federal agency.

  2. File an "informal" or "pre-complaint" (the term varies from agency to agency) with the EEO counselor. This form is fairly basic, allows the employee to list if they are represented by an attorney, and gives the complaining employee the choice to opt for counseling or mediation/alternative dispute resolution. Many employment attorneys believe that opting for mediation/alternative dispute resolution is more effective. The agency has 90 days from the date of filing the informal

  3. If the complaint is not resolved, at the close of the 90 day period, or potentially sooner, the EEO counselor will provide the employee with notice of how to file a formal complaint. The employee then has 15 days, including holidays and weekends to file the formal complaint.

  4. File the formal complaint. The agency then has 180 days to investigate the claim.

  5. After the 180 days expire, or the agency issues a decision, the employee may request a hearing before an administrative law judge, or proceed to file suit in a federal district court.

There are additional internal appeal measures, explained in greater detail at\_employees/complaint\_overview.cfm, but the above are the steps which are necessary to get to the point where the employee can file suit. Failure to follow the above steps is extremely likely to result in a dismissal of the action.

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