Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Counseling and Complaint Process

What is Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) in employment?

Equal Employment Opportunity is fair treatment in employment, promotion, training, and other personnel actions without regard to race, color, religion, sex (which includes gender, sexual harassment, and pregnancy), age, national origin, reprisal (for prior EEO activity), physical or mental disability, genetic information, status as a parent, and sexual orientation. To make sure that all Federal employees and applicants for employment with the Federal Government are provided this opportunity, certain laws and regulations were issued containing the legal basis for EEO programs in Federal agencies.

What is an EEO complaint and the two processes?

An EEO complaint is an allegation of discrimination because of membership in a protected class covered under the Federal anti-discrimination laws or Executive Orders.

Informal EEO Complaints

Formal EEO Complaint Processing

Can I still file a complaint if my issue is not discriminatory or harassing, just unfair?

Yes. During the Pre-Complaint process, a complaint can be filed even if your issue does not allege unlawful discrimination; however, to move to the next stage in the process, this type of complaint would be dismissed for failing to state a valid claim of discrimination. Therefore, first consider discussing the matter with your supervisor to work through a resolution to your issue. Additionally, there are other avenues to consider if the issue bringing you concern is not based on unlawful discrimination. Some of these avenues may include:

  • An appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) where an action is otherwise appealable to the Board and the employee alleges that the basis for the action was discrimination prohibited by Federal law;
  • A complaint of possible prohibited personnel practice with the Office of Special Counsel; and/or
  • A negotiated or administrative grievance.

What do I do if I have a complaint?

You may initiate an informal EEO complaint by sending an email to: FAS-OCR@usda.gov , with a brief statement on why you believe that you have been subjected to unlawful discrimination.  Your email should also include your updated contact information.

To preserve the right to file a formal EEO complaint, individuals who believe they have been subjected to unlawful discrimination must seek informal EEO counseling within 45 calendar days of the alleged discriminatory act.  The allegation will be assigned to a Office of Civil Rights staff member to conduct an informal EEO counseling.  At the initial interview, the EEO counselor will explain the EEO complaint process and the option to participate in mediation.

Do I need a representative?

While you have the right to be accompanied and advised by a representative at every stage of the EEO process, as long as there is no conflict of interest or position, you do not need to have a representative. If you choose to be represented during the informal EEO counseling process, you must complete a Designation of Representative Form and submit it to the appropriate EEO official.

What information should I present to the EEO Counselor?

You should be prepared to provide information and describe the what, when and how you were discriminated against. Be prepared to provide the full names of the involved persons, dates of the incidents, and to discuss what remedies could resolve the issues.

When is official time appropriate?

Official time (administrative leave) is appropriate when FAS employees who participate in the equal employment opportunity complaint process as complainants, witnesses, and/or representatives are requested or required to participate during an official administrative (informal and formal) EEO complaint process. Official time must be requested and approved in advance. It is not authorized for participation in federal court EEO proceedings.

For More Information

Physical Address:

Office of Civil Rights
Foreign Agricultural Service
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Room 5915
Washington D.C. 20250
Office Phone: (202) 720-7233

Email Address: