Filing a USDA program discrimination complaint does not waive or toll requirements for filing a lawsuit. Complainants are advised that they may wish to consult a lawyer at their earliest convenience to ensure that their rights are protected and preserved.
The first stage of the program discrimination complaint process is the intake stage. At this stage, the Office of Adjudication determines whether your complaint meets the legal requirements to be accepted for processing. Prior to making this determination, the Office of Adjudication may request clarification or additional information about the complaint from you. For more information about what must be included in your complaint, read How To File A Program Discrimination Complaint.
If your complaint is not accepted for processing, the Office of Adjudication will send you a letter notifying you why your complaint was not accepted and your complaint will be dismissed. If appropriate, your dismissed complaint may be referred to an agency or forum that may assist in resolving the issues. In this case, you will also be notified of the referral.
If your complaint is accepted for processing, the Office of Adjudication will send you a letter to notifying you of the acceptance and inform you of the issues that will be investigated. The USDA agency that your complaint is against will be required to prepare a written statement giving their position regarding your complaint. After the agency's position statement is received, the case will be sent to the next stage, investigation.
During the investigation stage, the Office of Adjudication will assign an investigator to the complaint. The investigator will contact you, any agency employees involved, and any other appropriate individual, to obtain sworn statements and documents relating to the issues in the complaint. After the complaint is investigated, a Report of Investigation is prepared and the complaint is sent to the next stage, adjudication. The complainant may obtain a copy of the Report of Investigation, after the complaint is closed, by making a request under the Freedom Of Information Act.
During the adjudication stage, the Office of Adjudication will review the Report of Investigation and perform a legal and factual analysis of the complaint to determine whether discrimination occurred. Based on this analysis, the Office of Adjudication will issue a Final Agency Decision. The Final Agency Decision will contain an analysis of the claims in the complaint and the Office of Adjudication conclusions and findings, including whether discrimination was found.
If discrimination is found, the Office of Adjudication may attempt to settle the complaint or take other corrective action, as appropriate. If no discrimination is found, the complaint is closed. A copy of the Final Agency Decision will be mailed to the complainant after it is signed by the Director of the Office of Civil Rights.
If your complaint alleges discrimination based on disability, you may appeal the Final Agency Decision to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights within 90 days of receipt of the Final Agency Decision. This opportunity for appeal applies only to complaints alleging discrimination based on disability.
In complaints alleging discrimination in certain USDA programs or those falling under the authority of other government agencies or departments, the complaint may be is processed in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding. In those instances, the procedure used to process your complaint may be different from the procedure described above. The procedure used will be determined by the Memorandum of Understanding.