How the Government Mishandles Federal Employees’ Discrimination Complaints

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Employees have certain rights, including the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, and disability.

When a federal employee files a discrimination case, the complaint is initially reviewed by the federal agency for which the employee works. Federal agencies serve as “gatekeepers” for discrimination claims; review offices residing within those agencies (from Homeland Security to the U.S. Postal Service) decide whether to allow discrimination complaints to proceed or to dismiss them.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently published a report that showed the most common errors federal agencies make in dismissing complaints.

What did the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission find?

According to the EEOC, its Office of Federal Operations – the office that handles discrimination appeals and other cases – looked at the appeals it handled going back five years and found the most common errors federal agencies made when dismissing complaints.

Judy Greenwald with Business Insurance writes that the Office of Federal Operations overturned federal agencies’ dismissals (in more than 80 percent of evaluated cases) when the dismissals were based on these two reasons:

1. The employee failed to state a valid claim

2. The employee failed to comply with the prescribed time limits on filing claims

In other words, in those cases where federal agencies dismissed cases based on failure to state a valid claim or failure to comply with time limits, the EEOC said those agencies got it wrong.

Which federal agencies appeared to get it wrong most often?

The EEOC report published on September 14, 2014, shows the various agencies that exceeded the government-wide reversal rate during the five-year period (2008-2012):

  • Homeland Security
  • Department of Justice
  • Transportation
  • Air Force
  • Army
  • Navy
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • Social Security Administration
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Veterans Affairs

As one example, the Department of Justice decided 35 cases and was reversed by the Office of Federal Operations in 17 of those cases, giving the DOJ a 48.6 percent reversal rate, against a 44.9 percent government-wide reversal rate (in 2012).

What does this mean for federal employees who experience discrimination?

The EEOC’s report, perhaps more than anything else, shows that federal agencies can and do get cases wrong. In fact, one could view the possibility of a dismissal in any given case as expected or even “routine,” given the frequency in which they occur. This is why it is important to persist – and consult an employment lawyer – if your case was initially dismissed.

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