EEO Terminology

Administrative Judge (AJ): An official assigned by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to hold hearings on formal complaints of discrimination and to otherwise process individual or class complaints for the EEOC.

Affirmative Action: Positive steps taken by an employer which contribute toward greater employment opportunities for minorities, females, the elderly, and the disabled. In federal employment, extra effort must be made to include qualified women, minorities, employees over 40, and the disabled at grade levels and in job categories where they are under represented.

Affirmative Action Plans/Affirmative Employment Plan: Written plans for programs required by Executive Order 11478 and other laws and regulations. AAP’s may contain studies which show how the work force at the activity has been used, and may include goals and timetables for increasing the representation of protected class members in those areas where they have been under represented.

Age Discrimination: A claim of discrimination based on age by an individual who is at least 40 years of age at the time of the alleged discriminatory act.

Aggrieved Person: A person who believes that he/she has been discriminated against in some way and makes his/her concerns known.

Allegation of Reprisal: A claim of restraint, interference, coercion, discrimination, or retaliation in connection with presenting or processing a complaint or because of any opposition to an employment practice made unlawful under Title 29 CFR part 1614.

Basis: A basis is the “reason” alleged for discrimination. An EEO complainant must assert a basis, or reason, when bringing forward a complaint. Bases (protected groups) under EEO are: race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex (gender), sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, and reprisal.

Complaint: A complaint is an allegation of illegal discrimination that is handled through an administrative procedure. A complaint may result when an employee believes he or she has been unfairly treated because of race, color, national origin, religion, age, gender sexual orientation or physical/mental disability. The allegation itself is not proof that illegal discrimination has taken place. The investigation that follows the acceptance of issues from a formal complaint will provide the basis for a determination as to whether or not illegal discrimination has, in fact, occurred.

Complainant: An employee, a former employee, or an applicant for employment who files a formal complaint of discrimination based on his/her race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40), physical or mental disability and/or reprisal.

 Disability: As used in reference to the EEO arena, and as defined in the Rehabilitation Act, means a person who has:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities; or,
  • A history of such impairment; or
  • Who is regarded as having such an impairment.

Discrimination: Any act or failure to act, impermissibly based in whole or in part on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental handicap, and/or reprisal, that adversely affects privileges, benefits, working conditions, results in disparate treatment, or had a disparate impact on employees or applicants.

Disparate Impact: Under EEO law, less favorable effect for one group than for another. Disparate impact results when rules applied to all employees have a different and more inhibiting effect on women and minority groups than on the majority. For example, nonessential educational requirements for certain jobs can have a disparate impact on minority groups looking for work, as they often have been limited in their access to educational opportunities.

Disparate Treatment: Inconsistent application of rules and policies to one group of people over another. Discrimination may result when rules and policies are applied differently to members of protected classes. Disciplining Hispanic and Afro-American employees for tardiness, while ignoring tardiness among other employees, is an example of disparate treatment. Such inconsistent application of rules often leads to complaints.

EEO Counselor: An employee of the EEO Office, working under the direction of the EEO Manager, who makes informal inquiries and seeks resolution of informal complaints.

Equal Employment Opportunity: The goal of laws which make some types of discrimination in employment illegal. Equal employment opportunity will become a reality when each U.S. citizen has an equal chance to enjoy the benefits of employment. EEO is not a guarantee of employment for anyone. Under EEO law, only job related factors can be used to determine if an individual is qualified for a particular job. Ideally, EEO laws and Affirmative Action programs combine to achieve equal employment opportunities. See EEO law, Affirmative Action, and Affirmative Action Plan/Affirmative Employment Plan.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): The Federal agency with overall responsibility for federal sector complaints. The EEOC issues policy and regulations on the discrimination complaint system, holds hearings and makes findings and recommendations on discrimination complaints; and, makes final decisions on discrimination complaints that have been appealed. It also reviews, upon request, decisions of negotiated grievances and Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) appeals if they include issues of discrimination.

Equal Employment Opportunity Laws: Five laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, physical handicap and mental handicap in any terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. The five EEO laws are:

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963, as amended.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 and the Pregnancy Disability Act of 1978.
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Ethnic Group: A group of people who share a common religion, color, or national origin. Irish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, German-Americans, Italian-Americans, Hindus, Moslems, and Jews are examples of ethnic groups. Some members of ethnic groups participate in the customs and practices of their groups, while others do not. Discrimination based on these customs and practices may be illegal under EEO law. See Minority.

Formal Complaint: A written complaint, DLA Form 1808, filed under 29 CFR 1614, alleging that a specific act of discrimination or reprisal has/have taken place that is personal to the individual.

Hearing: The presentation of such oral and written evidence concerning a complaint of discrimination presented before the EEOC.

Informal Complaint: A matter of alleged discrimination which an aggrieved person brings to the attention of the EEO Counselor before a formal discrimination complaint is filed.

Investigative Report: The report of investigation (ROI) prepared by an investigator after a formal discrimination complaint is filed, accepted for processing, and is investigated.

Job Related: Essential to job performance. The knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience necessary to perform a particular job. Tests are job related if they test whether an applicant or employee can perform the job in question. A rule or practice is job related if it is necessary for the safe and efficient performance of a particular job. For example, a rule prohibiting employees from wearing loose, flowing clothing around high speed rotating equipment is job related. However, the same rule applied in an office with no rotating equipment is not job related, and may have a disparate impact on some ethnic minorities.

Merit Principles: The rules established by the Office of Personnel Management that the federal government follows in hiring, promoting, and all terms and conditions of employment. One of those rules states that the selection and advancement shall be made on the basis of an applicant’s or employee’s ability, knowledge, and skills in fair and open competition.

Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB): The federal agency responsible for deciding appealable personnel actions and mixed case appeals.

Minority: The smaller part of a group. A group within a country or state that differs in race, religion or national origin from the dominant group. According to EEOC guidelines, minority is used to mean four particular groups who share a race, color or national origin.

These groups are:

  • American Indian or Alaskan Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America, and who maintain their culture through a tribe or community.
  • Asian or Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original people of the Far East, Southeast Asia, India, or the Pacific Islands. These areas include, for example, China, India, Korea, the Philippine Islands, and Samoa.
  • Black (except Hispanic). A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.
  • Hispanic. A person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
  • The many peoples with origins in Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East make up the dominant white population. Of course, many more minority groups can be identified in the American population. However, they are not classified separately as minorities under EEO law. It should be noted that women are not classified as a minority. However, they have experienced the same kind of systematic exclusion from the economy as the various minorities. Thus, they are considered as having “minority status” as far as the law is concerned.

Mixed Case Appeal: An appeal filed with the MSPB which alleges that an adverse personnel action resulted, in whole or in part, because of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40), physical or mental handicap, and/or reprisal, or alleges that such action resulted in sex-based wage discrimination.

Mixed Case Complaint: A complaint involving an action appealable to MSPB which alleges that the action was taken because of discrimination. Actions appealable to the MSPB include but are not limited to removals, demotions, suspensions for more than 14 days, reductions-in-force, and furloughs for less than 30 days.

Negotiated Settlement Agreement: A written settlement agreement voluntarily signed by the complainant or agent and the agency, during the precomplaint or formal complaint process, which resolves a discrimination complaint. The terms of the agreement are binding on both parties.

Numerical Goal: A target number of qualified women and minorities hired and advanced within a given period of time through an Affirmative Action Program. A numerical goal is not a quota, as it may not be reached within the time frame. It does not permit the hiring or advancement of unqualified employees. Numerical goals provide a standard which allows an activity to measure the effectiveness of its Affirmative Action Program. When numerical goals are reached, the percent of women and minority group members working at appropriate grade levels and classifications will be closer to their percentage in the labor market.

Official Time: Under 29 CFR Section 1614.605, complainants have a right to a “reasonable” about of official time, if otherwise on duty, to prepare a complaint filed under this regulation. The ? is not obligated to change work schedules, incur overtime, or pay travel. However, when the an EEOC administrative judge requests the complainant’s presence in connection with a complaint, the complainant will be granted official time for the duration of such meeting or hearing regardless of the tour of duty. Employees must arrange in advance with their supervisors to use this duty time. Disagreements as to what is “reasonable” time are resolved by the activity Commander or his/her designee. “Reasonable duty time” includes all time actually spent in meetings and hearings required by an EEOC official, plus a reasonable amount of preparation time. Reasonable time is generally defined in terms of hours rather than days, weeks, or months.

Office of Federal Operations (OFO): The EEOC component that handles all administrative appeals to the EEOC.

Prima Facie: This Latin term translates as “on first view”, or “at first appearance”. In EEO cases, complainants present evidence and arguments to support a claim of discrimination. If those arguments cannot be rebutted with additional evidence, the claim will be supported by the court within further argument. Thus, a prima facie case is established. In the EEO area, statistics of under utilization have been sufficient to make a prima facie case for discrimination.

Protected Class: The groups protected from the employment discrimination by law. These groups include men and women on the basis of sex; any group which shares a common race, religion, color, or national origin; people over 40; and people with physical or mental handicaps. Every U.S. citizen is a member of some protected class, and is entitled to the benefits of EEO law. However, the EEO laws were passed to correct a history of unfavorable treatment of women and minority group members.

Quota: Fixed hiring and promotion rates based on race, sex, or other protected class standards which must be met at all costs. In extreme cases, the courts have assigned quotas to some employers who have continued to practice illegal discrimination. The agency or any other employer cannot use quotas to meet their affirmative action goals unless a court orders it. Quotas are considered discriminatory against males and other non minority people.

Reasonable Accommodation: Any change in the work environment, in the way things are customarily done, or in the application process that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. The three general categories of reasonable accommodation are changes to: (1) job application process to permit people with disabilities to be considered for jobs; (2) enable people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of a job; and (3) give people with disabilities equal access to the benefits and privileges of employment.

Representative: A person selected and designated in writing by a complainant or the class agent. The representative may accompany, represent, and advise in the complaint process.

Reprisal: Unlawful restraint, coercion or discrimination against complainants, their representatives, witnesses, EEO Counselors, investigators, and other agency officials with responsibility for processing EEO complaints.

Settlement: An adjustment arrived at during the precomplaint or formal complaint process, which resolves issues raised to the satisfaction of the complainant. The terms of the adjustment must be set out in a negotiated settlement agreement.

Sexual Harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and/or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature based on one or more of the following conditions a) Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment b) Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual c) Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Under Represented: Inadequately represented in the work force of a particular activity. This term is used to describe the extent to which women and minorities are represented in particular grade levels and job categories. The percentage of women and minorities in the labor market is used as a standard to determine under representation. For example, suppose there are 100 GS-12’s at an agency; three of them or 3% are black. However, the black labor market for GS-12 positions at that particular activity is 15%. In this case, blacks are under represented at the GS -12 level.

Under Utilized: To use less than fully; below potential use. This term is often applied to categories of employees who are working at jobs that do not make use of their skills and abilities, although they may have been hired for those skills and abilities. When an employee is consistently assigned to “dead end” jobs, he or she may be under utilized because they are often seen as able to perform only limited tasks.