Equal Opportunity Investigations
The equal opportunity office investigates more than allegations of sexual harassment.
The mission of the equal opportunity office, as outlined by the Department of Defense directive, is to “promote an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers that prevent Service members from rising to the highest level of responsibility possible” and to ensure that “Service members shall be evaluated only on individual merit, fitness, and capability” free from “discrimination against persons or groups based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” because it is “contrary to good order and discipline and is counterproductive to combat readiness and mission accomplishment.” The military’s EO policies provide critical legal protections for service members. However, it must also be noted that equal opportunity cases are incredibly complex. This can lead to commanding officers and other service members finding themselves unfairly blamed for alleged misconduct. Being found to have engaged in discriminatory misconduct can destroy one’s military career. If you are under an EO investigation, it is imperative that you obtain legal protection from a qualified UCMJ specialist.
Understanding Equal Opportunity Investigations
Anyone subject to the UCMJ can find himself or herself under investigation for an allegation of violating the military’s equal opportunity policy or equal employment opportunity. EO refers to Service members whereas EEO refers to DoD civilian employees and stems from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. EO complaints may come from a formal complaint or an informal complaint. Ultimately, military investigators view each EO or EEO complaint of discrimination as having its own unique characteristics. In other words, this means that no two investigations will be exactly the same. Investigators will conduct each investigation in the manner necessary to get to the important facts of the case. That being said, there are some basic principles that will be applied in every case. Specifically, UCMJ investigators will seek to:
- Develop a written record: The primary goal of the investigation is to develop a reliable written record. This written record will include a basic account of the facts of the cases as well as a list of all relevant evidence. The most important thing that needs to be remembered is that the written record is extremely important. It is the fundamental foundation of an EO or EEO case. As the case moves further along in the legal process, officials will always refer back to the written record as a reference point.
- Conduct interviews: Investigators will also conduct interviews with anyone who might have information that is pertinent to the EO complaint. Not only does this include the parties directly involved in the case, but it also includes any knowledgeable third party witnesses. All interviews are conducted under oath, and, if necessary, they may be conducted multiple times.
- Maintain confidentiality: To the best extent possible, investigators have a duty to protect the privacy of parties involved in an EO investigation. This includes both the the person filing the complaint as well as anyone mentioned in the complaint. Though, investigators are allowed to share as much information about the case as is necessary to conduct a thorough and accurate investigation. Still, private information should only be shared when it is absolutely necessary.
- Give opinions or make a recommendation: Finally, upon completion of the investigation, investigators are empowered to give their opinion and even to make recommendations related to their findings. The Uniform Code of Military Justice requires that all opinions and recommendations be properly supported by evidence.
A Founded EO Complaint Could End Your Career
As with sexual harassment allegations, a founded EO complaint can end the career of even a senior leader. Unlike most UCMJ investigations, it may be wise to provide information to the EO investigation, but how the statement is shaped is vital and should not be undertaken without the assistance of an experienced UCMJ attorney. Despite the emphasis on handling matters at the lowest possible level, contemporary times in the military see moving away from counseling and remedial training and moving towards more severe forms of punishment. In fact, a military member found responsible for EO violations may be subject to any of the following forms of punishment:
- Administrative reprimand: Beyond counseling and training, an administrative reprimand is the lowest level of punishment. Reprimand is meant to be a non punitive method of punishment. Its goal is to correct alleged misconduct. However, while administrative reprimand is technically not punitive, it could still potentially have ramifications on one’s ability to advance their career. It is important to take an administrative reprimand seriously. Further, when possible, it is highly desirable to avoid official reprimand.
- Nonjudicial punishment: Nonjudicial punishment is an alternative to going through the court martial process. Generally speaking, accepting a nonjudicial punishment is optional. A party can accept the terms of the punishment in exchange for avoiding the court martial process. Further, accepting the penalties usually does not require any admission of guilt. However, the terms of a nonjudicial punishment can be harsh. They could include: reductions in rank, forfeitures of benefits, restrictions and admonitions. Of course, since agreement is voluntary, these terms can be rejected. That being said, rejecting the terms will usually lead to a court-martial. In some cases, the benefits of going through the court-martial process may outweigh the risks, but the risks always need to be thoroughly considered.
- Administrative elimination: In some cases, an equal opportunity complaint can lead to an administrative elimination. Also known as an involuntary discharge, an administrative elimination can end the military career of the accused party. While this form of punishment is generally reserved for a limited number of cases, it is a possibility that needs to be considered.
- Court-martial: Finally, depending on the number of complainants and the nature of the complaints, an EO complaint can even result in a military member facing court-martial for their actions. A court-martial is a military criminal trial. If you are facing one, you need to be represented by an experienced court-martial defense attorney.
How Can UCMJ Professionals Help?
If you are under investigation for the violation of the military’s EO or EEO policies, you need to jump into action. Your problems are not going to go away on their own. The results of the investigation could adversely affect, and even ruin, your career. Do not let this happened to you. An experienced UCMJ attorney will help protect your rights by:
- Conducting a comprehensive parallel investigation of the case:
- Helping you prepare your statement to investigators;
- Uncovering any exonerating evidence and getting it into the hands of investigators; and
- Working to keep the issue at the lowest possible level.
You should get an advocate by your side as soon in the investigatory process as possible. Ultimately, the written report put together in your case will carry a tremendous amount of power throughout the whole process. If the report is wrong, the whole process will be poisoned against you. This means that you need to do everything in your power to make sure that the report is accurate and fair to your rights and interests.
Contact Our Office Today
At the Law Office of Jocelyn C. Stewart, our UCMJ defense attorneys have extensive experience protecting the rights of those subject to military discipline. The simple fact is that an equal opportunity complaint can do profound damage to your career. If a complaint has been brought against you, and you are now subject to an equal opportunity investigation, you need an experienced attorney by your side. To learn more about what our team can do for you, please contact us through our website or call our office today at 1-888-252-0927 to schedule your case evaluation.