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U S Department of Commerce Office of Civil Rights
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U.S. Department of Commerce
Manual for Processing Discrimination Complaints
Part II,
Section A, Chapter 2

The federal EEO process is governed by the regulations, management directives, guidance, and EEOC case law, as well as applicable federal court cases. The EEOC regulations governing the federal sector complaint process are at 29 C.F.R. Part 1614. The applicable EEOC management directive is EEOC MD-110.

The EEO administrative complaint process consists of three parts:

  • the informal process;

  • the formal complaint process; and

  • the appeal process.

The informal complaint process, also called EEO Counseling and the pre-complaint stage, provides complainants and management officials with an opportunity to define the complainant's concerns, obtain information necessary to address the issues, and attempt to resolve the issues informally. EEO counseling can resolve many workplace conflicts before the parties enter into a formal process, which can be both adversarial and lengthy. It also is a means for employees and applicants with recourse to more than one formal procedure for raising their claims to learn about their options. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is also available throughout the complaint process.

The formal EEO complaint process is a legal procedure for the consideration of claims of employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, and disability. Claims of retaliation for opposing these types of discrimination or for participating in the EEO complaint process can also be raised. If a complaint meets procedural requirements established by regulation, an investigation is conducted. In most cases, complainants may also elect to have a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge. The formal complaint process ends when the Department issues a Final Agency Decision (FAD) on the complaint.

Mediation is an alternative to completing the EEO Counseling process during the Informal Complaint or Pre-Complaint stage, or completing the Investigation process during the formal complaint stage. During mediation, the aggrieved person meets with a management official with authority to resolve the complaint and a neutral third party who is trained to facilitate a dialogue between the parties to help achieve resolution. The management official need not be the person whom the aggrieved person alleges discriminated against him or her. In fact, in cases where communication between the aggrieved person and a management official has broken down, the agency may wish to designate another official in the chain of command, keeping in mind that the goal of mediation is to resolve the complaint at the lowest organizational level.

In the appeal process, complainants may appeal FADs to the EEOC. Merit decisions in mixed case complaints -- complaints on issues that are appealable to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) -- are first appealed to the MSPB.

Except for complaints brought solely under the Equal Pay Act (EPA) or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employees and applicants must use the EEO administrative complaint process before raising their claims in court. However, they need not complete the entire process before going to court.

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Page last updated: Friday, May 10, 2002