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EEO office provides options for employees, agencies

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Never in history has a workplace functioned without some sort of discord or conflict between individual either co-workers are management. 

But, there hasn't always been an equal employment opportunity office available to defuse the conflict and help find some sort of resolution. 

That's what Sherry Murray-Garrett, the chief of Sheppard's EEO office, said the office is all about here. Mrs. Murray-Garrett said she and Diane Hughes process about 200 contacts and file an average of 10 complaints each year. 

Any civilian employee on base can file a complaint for discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, reprisal, national origin, age over 40, mental or physical disability, sexual harassment or sexual orientation. 

Ms. Murray-Garrett said contractors can also file a complaint, but not if it is against another contractor but they can contact the EEO Office for more information on how to address their concerns. 

"We've even had people contact us for marriage problems and we'll get them to the right (agency)," she said. 

The process for dispute resolution could take up to 440 days, she said, depending on whether or not a formal complaint was filed. But, she said most people need time to vent more than anything else. 

"People are concerned about their workplace environment," she said. "Most are seeking information and aren't sure what to do or where to go." 

If there is legitimacy to an employee's complaint, Ms. Murray-Garrett said a complaint is filed and mediation is offered to try and resolve the issue. 

"We have to remain neutral," she said of the EEO's role. "We are not an advocate for the complainant or the agency." 

If a resolution is not achieved during mediation, the complainant has 15 days to file a formal complaint after receiving a Letter of Final Review from the EEO. 

A new program was implemented recently that would decrease the number of days it would take for a formal complaint to work through the system. Ms. Murray-Garrett said the Compressed Orderly Rapid Equitable program should take 127 or more to complete instead of the usual 440 days. 

Although the office is federally mandated and governed, Ms. Murray-Garrett said she reports directly to the 82nd Training Wing vice commander. But, she said the office also has responsibilities to the complainant and agency. 

She said perhaps the biggest responsibility to complainants is to be there to listen and allow the individual to vent their frustrations or concerns. The office also informs them of the different possible EEO violations, dispute procedures and explains the reason why the office is neutral in the dispute. 

For the agency, the EEO office provides a resource for training, briefs and information to personnel, explains the neutral position of the office and informs the chain of command of a complaint. 

Ms. Murray-Garrett said it doesn't matter what the topic is or how trivial someone might thing it is. She said the best thing to do is visit with her or Ms. Hughes. 

"Usually it's not a one-time occurrence," she said of a possible dispute. "It's been building up over a period of time." 

For more information on the EEO office and the process for dispute resolution, visit the office's Web site located on the Sheppard Portal under the 82nd Training Wing or contact one of the counselors listed below.