Employees of federal agencies who experience sexual harassment have many legal protections. But the path to justice can be long and complex.
The complainant must adhere to specific steps and strict deadlines. It is a good idea to consult a lawyer at the beginning of the process, starting with documenting and reporting the harassing behavior.
The basics of a federal sector harassment case
Employees of the U.S. government are protected from workplace sexual harassment and other forms of harassment. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) provides a harassment complaint process which is summarized below. The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan, P.C., are happy to assist at any stage.
Informal complaint – You must contact a designated EEOC counselor at your federal agency, within 45 days of the harassment. You will have the option of participating in (a) EEOC counseling or (b) alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
The counselor or mediator will attempt to resolve the issue through this informal process. For example, the harasser might receive a warning or other sanctions. The goal is to ensure you are not subjected to further unwanted advances or a hostile working environment.
Formal complaint – If the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, you can initiate a formal EEOC complaint. You must file the complaint within 15 days from the date that you receive instructions.
Your agency then has up to 180 days to investigate your case. After the investigation, you will have the option of (a) requesting a hearing or (b) asking the agency to issue a “final action” on whether harassment occurred.
- Final action – If the agency finds that no harassment occurred, you can appeal that decision through the EEOC or through federal court.
- Administrative hearing – You have 30 days to request a hearing before an EEOC administrative law judge. The judge will hear testimony, render a decision and order appropriate relief if there is a finding of harassment.
Final order – The agency has up to 40 days to issue a final order agreeing or disagreeing with the judge’s decision and any relief ordered.
Appealing a final order – If the agency dismisses your complaint or disagrees with some part of the finding, you have 30 days to appeal to the EEOC. Attorneys of the EEOC will examine your complaint, the agency’s investigation, the hearing transcript and any additional appeal materials.
Reconsideration – If the EEOC decides against you, you may have grounds to request a reconsideration, within 30 days of the decision. You must assert an error in the facts or the law. (The agency can also ask for reconsideration if the EEOC finds in your favor.) Reconsideration decisions are final.
Filing A Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
You are required to begin with informal complaint/ADR through your agency. After that, there are various points when you can opt out of the EEOC process if you feel it is stalled or adversarial to you. For example, if the agency has not engaged in a good faith effort or has not completed its investigation within 180 days, you can take your case directly to district court.
Passman & Kaplan, P.C., practices primarily in federal employment law. Our lawyers have represented clients in EEOC proceedings and in civil lawsuits. We can examine the facts of your case to determine which path will give you the best and swiftest recourse.