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Office of Equal Rights

The Office of Equal Rights serves the Agency and the Nation by promoting affirmative employment, a discrimination-free work place, and equal access to FEMA programs and benefits.

  • We perform our mission by providing expert guidance and proactive support.
  • Our customers are the employees and managers of FEMA, State and local government officials, and the American people.
  • Our goals are to bring the fullest human value to the work of the Agency and to fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution.

The Office of Equal Rights can be contacted at:  202-212-3535 or email us at FEMA-EqualRights@FEMA.dhs.gov.

Office of Equal Rights Leadership

Jo Linda Johnson
Director

Megumi Fujita
Deputy Director

Purpose Statement

The Office of Equal Rights (OER) serves the Agency and the Nation by promoting affirmative employment, a discrimination-free work place, and equal access to FEMA programs and benefits. OER’s mission is to provide expert guidance and proactive support to the employees and managers of FEMA, State and local government officials, and the American people. OER’s goals are to bring the fullest human value to the work of the Agency and to fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution.

Equal Employment Opportunity Program

FEMA cannot and will not tolerate discrimination based on the protected bases of race; color; religion; sex, including pregnancy, sex stereotyping, gender identity or gender expression; national origin; sexual orientation; physical or mental disability; age; protected genetic information; status as a parent marital status; political affiliation; or retaliation based on previous Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activity. FEMA also will not tolerate any type of harassment - either sexual or nonsexual - of any employee or applicant for employment.  Click here for an Overview of the Federal Sector EEO Complaint process.  
 
How to File a Complaint:

If you believe you have been discriminated against, you must contact the Office of Equal Rights within 45 calendar days of the alleged discriminatory event at 202-212-3535 or email us at FEMA-EqualRights@FEMA.DHS.gov.

Informal Counseling:  

Once you have contacted the Office of Equal Rights, you will be assigned an EEO Counselor. The EEO Counselor serves as a neutral party and is not an advocate for either management or the employee filing a complaint. The Counselor’s main role is to explore options for resolution of the issues involved. EEO counseling is an essential part of the federal system for processing and resolving employee and applicant EEO concerns. The opportunity for informal resolution at an early stage is an important feature of the counseling stage.  If resolution is not achieved, the counselor plays a vital role in ensuring prompt and efficient processing of the discrimination complaint.

During counseling, the EEO Counselor will advise individuals in writing of their rights and responsibilities, explain the complaint process, and conduct a limited inquiry into the allegations presented. This inquiry may involve interviews with employees, management officials or persons the counselor determines may have some firsthand knowledge of the allegations.

The individual may choose to participate in either counseling, or in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).   Ordinarily, counseling must be completed within 30 days and ADR within 90 days. At the end of counseling, or if ADR is unsuccessful, you will be given a Notice of Right to File a Formal Discrimination Complaint.  The allegations must be counseled informally before you can file a formal EEO complaint.  You will have 15 calendar after receipt of that notice to file a Formal Complaint of Discrimination with the Office of Equal Rights at Headquarters. Formal Complaints of Discrimination should be addressed to:

Office of Equal Rights
EEO Division
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
4th Floor – 4SW-0915
Washington, D.C. 20472-3535

EEO Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

All agencies are required to have an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program.  FEMA strongly encourages the use of ADR in the EEO process.  Our EEO ADR program is fair if it is voluntary, confidential, enforceable by the parties (if an agreement is reached), and led by a neutral person, who has no personal interest in the dispute.
 
Like most agencies FEMA uses mediation.  Mediation is an informal meeting between the parties that is conducted by a neutral mediator.  A mediator is trained to help people who have disagreements talk to each other.  The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong or issue a decision.  Instead, the mediator helps the parties work out their own solutions to their dispute.
 
There are real advantages to participating in EEO ADR.  EEO ADR offers both you and the agency the opportunity for a fast and informal settlement of your dispute.  Rather than leaving the decision to a third party, such as an Administrative Judge, ADR gives you the opportunity to reach an agreement that works for both you and the agency.

Learn more about Federal Sector ADR.

Civil Rights

Any person eligible to receive disaster aid or other services from FEMA is entitled to those benefits without discrimination. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of their race, color, or national origin in programs that receive Federal financial assistance. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 affords comparable guarantees to individuals with disabilities, and adds protections against bias in programs conducted by the government itself. Section 508 of this law deals specifically with access to computers and information technology. Section 308 of the Robert T. Stafford Emergency Management and Disaster Assistance Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, nationality, sex, English Proficiency, age, sexual orientation or economic status in all disaster assistance programs.


The Civil Rights Program section of the Office of Equal Rights provides the following services:


Technical Assistance - The Title VI Civil Rights Section offers policy guidance to the Agency in meeting Civil Rights mandates. In disaster operations, staff works closely with community organizations to resolve tensions and eliminate potential complaints. The office also provides assistance to the Agency and the national emergency management community in the effort to make publications, programs, and facilities accessible to people with disabilities.

Complaints Resolution - Applicants for or recipients of FEMA federal funds, services or benefits who believe they have been discriminated against may contact the Office of Equal Rights (OER) to obtain complaint processing assistance. Generally applicants are described as the general public or disaster survivors (i.e. persons who have applied for individual disaster assistance) and contractors or sub-grantees (i.e. person, company or state/local entity that has applied to be awarded or has been awarded FEMA federal funds.) Furthermore, person or persons who represent the ‘general public, disaster survivors, contractors or sub-grantees’ can also obtain complaint processing assistance from OER.
The matter will be looked into informally by an Civil Rights Specialist. If the issue cannot be resolved informally, a formal written complaint may be filed with OER. This office is responsible for processing complaints, issuing acknowledgements and acceptance/dismissals; conducting investigations and compliance reviews; and issuing final decisions.

 

Your Civil Rights and Disaster Assistance

The Agency’s responsibility for conducting a civil rights program derives primarily from the requirement under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.  FEMA is regulated by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, PL 100-707 (Stafford Act), signed into law November 23, 1988; which amended the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, PL 93-288. This Act constitutes the statutory authority for most Federal disaster response activities especially as they pertain to FEMA and FEMA programs. The Act was amended further as, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as amended, and Related Authorities as of June 2007. Section 308 of the Stafford Act, as amended, includes provisions for insuring that the distribution of supplies, the processing of applications, and other relief and assistance activities shall be accomplished in an equitable and impartial manner, without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency, or economic status.

The Stafford Act also makes compliance with regulations as prerequisite to participation by other bodies in relief operations. Specifically, as a condition of participation in the distribution of assistance or supplies under this Act or of receiving assistance under this Act, governmental bodies and other organizations shall be required to comply with regulations relating to nondiscrimination promulgated by the President, and such other regulations applicable to activities within an area affected by a major disaster or emergency as he deems necessary for the effective coordination of relief efforts.

The Department of Justice is responsible for assisting federal agencies to develop and implement Title VI programs; and, in that capacity has issued the following guidance:

  • Department of Justice's Title VI Regulations (28 C.F.R. § 42.101 et seq.)
  • Department of Justice's Title VI Coordination Regulations (28 C.F.R. § 42.401 et seq.)
  • Department of Justice's Guidelines for the Enforcement of Title VI (28 C.F.R. § 50.3)

All federally assisted or federally conducted programs or activities are required to comply with Title VI.  Program or activity is defined under the Civil Rights Restoration Act.  The Civil Rights Restoration Act (1988) was a U.S. Congress legislative measure which specified that recipients of federal funds must comply with civil rights laws in all areas, not just in the particular program or activity that received federal funding.  The statutory definition addresses four broad categories of recipients: (1) State or local governmental entities. (2) Colleges, universities, other postsecondary educational institutions, public systems of higher education, local educational agencies (LEAs), systems of vocational education, and other school systems. (3) Private entities, such as corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships, including those whose principal business is providing education. (4) Entities that are established by a combination of two or more of the first three types of entities.

Related to federal assistance, if State and local governmental entities receive financial assistance, the "program or activity" or "program" in which discrimination is prohibited includes all of the operations of any State or local department or agency to which the Federal assistance is extended. For example, if financial assistance is provided to a State agency, all of the agency's operations are subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of the regulations. In addition, "program or activity" or "program" also includes all of the operations of the entity of a State or local government that distributes the Federal assistance to another State or local governmental agency or department and all of the operations of the State or local governmental entity to which the financial assistance is extended. If financial assistance is provided to a state agency, and the State agency distributes the financial assistance to a local agency, then all of the operations of that State agency are subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of the regulations, and all of the operations of the local agency are covered.

Executive Order 13166, "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency."  The Executive Order, signed on August 11, 2000, requires Federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them.  The Executive Order also requires that the Federal agencies work to ensure that recipients of Federal financial assistance provide meaningful access to their LEP applicants and beneficiaries.

To assist Federal agencies in carrying out LEP responsibilities, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a Policy Guidance Document, "Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - National Origin Discrimination against Persons with Limited English Proficiency" (LEP Guidance).  This LEP Guidance sets forth the compliance standards that recipients of Federal financial assistance must follow to ensure that their programs and activities normally provided in English are accessible to LEP persons and do not discriminate on the basis of national origin.

The Agency is required to report its activity in support of the following White House Initiatives on an annual basis:

  • Executive Orders 13256 - President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU);
  • Executive Order 13230 - President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans (HSI); and,
  • Executive Order 13270 - Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU). 
  • Executive Order 13779- To Promote Excellence and Innovation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Federal Agencies are required to support these initiatives which are designed to help achieve academic excellence in these various universities.  Also, the amended Stafford Act established Section 803 of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act which focuses on Centers of Excellence Program.  Under this initiative, one of four universities selected for participation in the Centers of Excellence Program is expected to be a minority institution. This Section is a strong tool to support these White House Initiatives and help the Agency’s participation in these programs. 
 

Your Civil Rights in Grants/Contracting

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs that receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.  This includes non-discrimination in awarding grants, contracts and other federal financial assistance, as well as non-discrimination by recipients (including sub-grantees) of federal grants, contracts and other federal assistance. Also, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a Federal law that protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in programs funded or conducted by the Federal government. 

Forms of Discrimination that are Prohibited by Civil Rights Laws

There are many forms of illegal discrimination that can limit the opportunity of people to gain equal access to services, benefits and programs.  Among other things, in operating a FEMA-assisted program, a recipient (state or local government or agency that receives Federal disaster funds from FEMA) cannot, on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, nationality, sex, English Proficiency, age, or economic status, either directly or through contractual means:

  • Deny access to program services, aids, or benefits;
  • Provide a different service, aid or benefits, or provide them in a manner different than they are provided to others; or,
  • Segregate or separately treat individuals in any matter related to the receipt of any service, aid or benefit.

These prohibitions also apply to FEMA itself in its operation of Federally conducted programs. 

How to file a Civil Rights complaint

How to file a complaint.

Each federal agency that provides federal financial assistance is responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination in the use of its funds.

Applicants, contractors or recipients of FEMA federal funds, services or benefits (i.e. disaster assistance, grants, contracts or awards) or representatives of such parties that believe that discrimination has occurred in awarding or receiving such funds, services or benefits may file a complaint. Generally applicants are described as the general public or disaster survivors (i.e. persons who have applied for individual disaster assistance) and contractors or sub-grantees (i.e. person, company or state/local entity that has applied to be awarded or has been awarded FEMA federal funds). A complaint may be initiated by contacting the FEMA Equal Rights office by calling FEMA’s helpline at (800) 621-3362. You may also contact FEMA headquarters’ Office of Equal Rights at (202) 646-3535, option #1 Civil Rights. 

A complaint must be filed not later than 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended by the responsible official or designee. The responsible agency official at FEMA may from time to time avail him/herself of the flexibility provided by the regulations and extend the time for filing. This is a matter of discretion and decisions are made on a case by case basis.

The complaint must be in writing and include:

  • Your name, address, and telephone number. Your complaint must include a basis. Your complaint must be signed. If you are filing on behalf of another person, include your name address, telephone number, and your relationship to that person (e.g., friend, attorney, parent, etc.)
  • The name and address of the agency, institution, or department you believe discriminated against you. This may include a recipient of FEMA funds such as a state or local government entity.
  • How, why, and when you believe you or the party you represent were discriminated against. Include as much background information about the alleged acts of discrimination. Include names of individuals whom you allege discriminated against you, if you know them.
  • You may mail your written complaint to the Office of Equal Rights at:

    FEMA Office of Equal Rights
    ATTN: CIVIL RIGHTS TITLE VI PROGRAM
    500 C Street SW
    Room 4SW-0915
    Washington DC 20472

You may also email your written complaint to FEMA-civilrightsoffice@fema.dhs.gov.  

In some cases, you may file a case in the nearest Federal District Court. This option is also available to applicants who have their complaint investigated by FEMA and are not satisfied with the final decision.

What will FEMA do with my complaint?

Once a complaint is filed, the Office of Equal Rights will assign a case number to the complaint. The case number and the complainant’s name will be used to track the complaint through the complaint process. The case will be reviewed to determine whether FEMA has jurisdiction to investigate the allegations. If the complaint is accepted, FEMA will investigate the allegations. If the investigation determines that the allegations are founded, negotiation is engaged to resolve the allegations and correct the violations. If this is unsuccessful, enforcement proceedings may be initiated.

Additional Resources

Last Updated: 
06/26/2019 - 10:57