Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Last Modified: 10/25/2013
  1. What is the responsibility of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Office of Civil Rights (OCR)?

The OCR provides leadership and comprehensive protection against discrimination in FNS employment practices and delivery of programs to the public.

2. What is the difference between a Civil Rights (CR) complaint and an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint?

  • A CR complaint is a verbal or written allegation of discrimination that an FNS program is administered or operated in a manner that results in disparate treatment or services being provided to persons or groups of persons because of their protected class.
  • An EEO complaint involves any employee or applicant for employment who believes that he or she has been discriminated against based on one of the covered protected classes when applying for a job or currently working for FNS.

3. How do you know if you’ve been a victim of discrimination?

Any time you believe that you’ve been treated differently than another person based on one of the covered protected classes.

4. What are the protected classes for filing a discrimination complaint against an FNS program?

The protected classes for filing a discrimination complaint against an FNS program is race, color, national origin, age, sex, disability, religion, and political affiliation (not all bases apply to all programs)

5. How do you file a discrimination complaint against one of FNS programs?

Follow the procedures listed at this link.

6. How long does it take to process a complaint against FNS programs?

All program discrimination complaints must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory action. FNS will determine within 10 working days of receipt whether USDA has jurisdiction based on civil rights laws and regulations.

If USDA has jurisdiction, the FNS Office of Civil Rights will process all discrimination complaints within 90 days of receipt.

If there is insufficient information available, or special circumstances or accommodations are involved, some cases may take more than the established timeframe to reach an agreement or final decision.

7. How do I file an EEO complaint and who should I contact?

Follow the procedures listed at this link.

8. What are the protected classes for filing an EEO complaint?

The protected classes for filing an EEO complaint are race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age (if over 40), disability and reprisal. Complaints may also be filed based on marital or familial status, genetic information, sexual orientation, and political beliefs, but are not appealable outside of USDA.

9. What is the difference between EEO counseling and a formal complaint?

  • EEO counseling is an informal process where the EEO counselor will:
    • Address your concerns and questions and inform you of your rights
    • Inquire into the facts and attempt resolution
    • Issue a Notice of Right to File a formal complaint if the matter is not resolved
    • Submit a report of the inquiry, if a formal complaint is filed
  • Formal complaints are filed with the USDA Office of Civil Rights (OCR). OCR will acknowledge receipt and accepts or dismisses the complaint. OCR will provide other information concerning the EEO complaint process and will inform the complainant of his/her rights and responsibilities. If the complaint is accepted, an investigation is conducted within 180. When the investigation is completed, the complainant and/or their representative, is provided with a copy of the Report of Investigation as well as further appeal rights or the right to withdraw the complaint.

10. How long does it take to process an EEO complaint?

The informal counseling period lasts 30 days. The counselor will and must explain other options. The timeframe for processing a formal complaint begins when a complaint is filed until the complaint is resolved or all appeal rights have been exhausted.

If there is insufficient information available, or special circumstances or accommodations are involved, some cases may take more than the established timeframe to reach an agreement or final decision.

11. What is Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

ADR involves a variety of techniques and approaches to achieve consensual resolution of disputes, in a manner which avoids the cost, delay, and unpredictability of more traditional adversarial and adjudicative processes.

These techniques may include mediation, facilitation, neutral evaluation, conciliation, fact finding, use of an ombudsman, settlement conferences, minitrials, and peer review. For additional information regarding ADR, please contact the Agency's ADR Program Manager at (703) 305-2215

12. What are the benefits of ADR?

The use of ADR can benefit FNS, its customers and employees by achieving effective and mutually satisfactory resolutions of disputes; decreasing time, cost and other resources expended in resolving employment and program disputes; fostering a culture of respect and trust between FNS and its customers and employees; and increasing customer satisfaction and employee morale.

13. Who should I contact about a civil rights program discrimination complaint?

To file a program discrimination complaint write a letter to:

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Director, Office of Civil Rights

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250-9410