The Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office at Hill Air Force Base (AFB) has been removed from her position after an investigation by the U.S Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Secretary of the Air Force concerning the Air Force’s violation of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations and directives.
OSC is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Its primary mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants for federal employment from fourteen prohibited personnel practices that are defined by statute at 5 U.S.C. § 2302.
Three whistleblowers at Hill AFB submitted protected whistleblower disclosures with OSC raising violations of the EEOC’s regulations and directives in the manner Hill AFB processed their EEO complaints. Violations of EEOC regulations are generally raised with at the EEOC, which has the authority to sanction an agency that violates the EEOC regulations under 29 C.F.R. Part 1614 and the EEOC Management Directive 110.
OSC submitted a public report on December 22, 2020 detailing multiple violations of the EEOC’s regulations and directives at Hill AFB. OSC found systemic problems with Hill AFB’s EEO Office and the manner in which its EEO Director had been executing the responsibilities of that office.
According to OSC, Hill AFB’s EEO Director had actively discouraged employees from filing EEO complaints, improperly modified and rejected EEO complaints and allegations, provided false and misleading information about the EEO process, and failed to identify conflicts of interest by management during the EEO mediation process.
When these allegations were referred to the Secretary of the Air Force by OSC, the Air Force Office of Inspector General also investigated and issued a report that further identified potential wrongdoing by the two attorneys at Hill AFB. In response, the Air Force removed the EEO Director, revised the annual training for EEO personnel, issued new EEO policies, referred the two identified attorneys to the Professional Responsibility Program for the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps, and initiated an inquiry into allegations of their unprofessional conduct.
OSC’s investigation and findings concerning an agency’s procedural violations of EEOC regulations and directives appears to be unprecedented. Federal employees and applicants now have at least two potential routes to raise their concerns of agency violations of the EEOC regulations and directives – either during the traditional EEO process, including any alternative dispute resolution or mediation, or by way of protected whistleblower disclosures made to the OSC. Regardless of the forum, OSC’s public report confirms that improper conduct will not be ignored and the federal workforce has the power to cause systemic changes where violations are found.
Tully Rinckey represented one of the whistleblowers in the case referenced in this article.