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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.

Director

Regis Phelan, Acting Director, Office of Equal Rights - Primary responsibility is providing agency-wide leadership and guidance on equal opportunity, diversity, civil rights, and the support of an efficient work environment.

Equal Employment Opportunity Program

Federal discrimination laws cover all FEMA personnel, including reservists and applicants for employment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protection from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual harassment), religion, and retaliation. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 added individuals with disabilities to this list. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 added protection regarding Genetic Information. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, prohibits age discrimination in the federal sector.

The Complaints and Resolution Section of the Office of Equal Rights provides a variety of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) services to FEMA Managers and Employees (including applicants for employment).

EEO Counseling - Provides oversight of all EEO Counseling for Headquarters, Regional Offices, Fixed Facilities, and Disaster Related Activities. Maintains a staff of collateral duty EEO Counselors and Equal Rights Officers to perform counseling services.

The counselor is not a representative or advocate of the aggrieved person or of management. The counselor acts as a neutral party whose function is to make inquiries to uncover the facts.

Alternative Dispute Resolution - Alternative Dispute Resolution services are utilized when individuals have indicated the willingness to participate, and/or issues are identified which lend themselves to an opportunity for positive results.

Conflict Resolution and Management - This program is designed and committed to assisting with problems before they become formal complaints. Office staff regularly visits the field to update managers on policy and to deal with specific concerns. Informal dispute procedures are available to help contending parties with workplace conflict and resolution.

Complaints Processing - Responsible for processing formal complaints of discrimination including acknowledgement, acceptance/dismissal, investigations, compliance with hearing and appeal procedures, and issuing final agency decisions.

Documents - To file an employment discrimination complaint

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 Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (Stafford Act) is the law that authorizes Federal assistance when the President declares a State to be a disaster area.  Section 308 of the Stafford Act protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of their race, color, religion, disability, nationality, sex, English Proficiency, sexual orientation or economic status in all disaster assistance programs.  Section 309 of the Stafford Act applies these nondiscrimination provisions to all private relief organizations participating in the response and recovery effort.

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 or (202) 646-3638 (voicemail).

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 fax your written complaint to (202) 646-4320, ATTN: CIVIL RIGHTS TITLE VI PROGRAM

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: 
10/30/2017 - 12:11