The Office of Compliance is responsible for formally evaluating allegations of discrimination at the University of Wisconsin-Madison consistent with federal and state laws or regulations. The following defines the roles and processes for filing, investigating, and resolving complaints of discrimination.
Filing a Complaint
Who may file?
The following individuals may file a complaint with the Office of Compliance:
- Former Employees (subject to the 300-day rule requiring that all discrimination complaints be filed within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act.)
- Applicants for employment
- Former Students (subject to the 300-day rule requiring that all discrimination complaints be filed within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act.)
- Applicants for admission
- Recipients of university services, while participating in university programs and activities, including visitors to campus
The Office of Compliance Director, based on information received, may also open a complaint at his or her discretion or at the request of the Chancellor or the Provost.
What must be included in the complaint?
The following information must be provided by a complainant in a written discrimination complaint in order for the complaint to be considered complete and ready for review by the complaint investigator:
- Contact information (i.e., name, a street address, telephone number, or email address.)
- The grounds on which the alleged discrimination occurred. It must be one of the bases listed, depending on whether the allegations involve employment, access to educational programs, or access to a university activity open to the public. These grounds are the only bases on which the Office of Compliance can accept a complaint.
- The name, title, and address of the person who allegedly discriminated. The Office of Compliance recognizes that it may be difficult for a complainant to gather this information however, before a complaint can be accepted, the Office of Compliance must be able to confirm that the alleged discrimination involved a university sponsored program or activity or was committed by a person acting in his or her capacity as a member of the university.
- The dates, time period, and the location of the actions or incidents believed to be discriminatory.
- The effect that the treatment or actions have had on the complainant’s work, instructional, or study environment, or the complainant’s ability to take part in university programs or activities (i.e., the adverse action or outcome).
- The name, address or phone number of persons who have information relevant to the allegations, and the names of any persons who might have experienced similar treatment.
- Any material supporting the allegations.
- Also, a statement of an outcome or resolution the complainant believes would be an appropriate remedy for the complaint may be included but is not required.
What is the time frame for submission?
The complaint must be filed with the Office of Compliance within 300 days of the alleged act of discrimination. The 300 days is counted from the date of the alleged discrimination to the date the complaint is received. This time frame will only be extended in unusual circumstances by the Office of Compliance director, primarily when personal or family illness prevented an individual from filing in a timely manner or when the complainant could not reasonably be expected to know that he or she was being discriminated against within the 300 days. (Note: The time frames for filing under federal law may differ. For example, individuals wishing to file with the Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, generally need to file complaints within 180 days from the alleged act of discrimination. To ensure that you do not lose any of your rights, you should contact the federal and state agencies at the addresses listed below.)
What determines whether a complaint will be approved for investigation?
The Equal Opportunity Complaint Investigator first determines whether to accept the complaint based on the following criteria. All criteria must be met for a complaint to be open for formal investigation.
- Timely filing
- The grounds on which the alleged discrimination occurred must be one of the legally protected bases.
- An adverse action or outcome resulted from the alleged discrimination.
- The individual filing the complaint has standing to do so.
If these criteria are met, the Equal Opportunity investigator conducts the investigation and issues a finding after the investigation is completed. These actions are taken in consultation with the Office of Compliance Director.
Note: A complainant who has filed with federal or State of Wisconsin agencies may also file with the Office of Compliance. The complaint will be investigated providing it meets the Office of Compliance’s requirements.
If the review indicates that the allegation does not meet criteria for investigation, the complaint will be closed. If the review indicates that the complaint is timely filed, but does not meet other requirements listed, the Office of Compliance will determine if it is necessary to contact the complainant to obtain additional information. If the complainant cannot or does not provide the required information within the appropriate timeframe, the Office of Compliance will administratively withdraw the complaint without an investigation.
The Office of Compliance will not proceed with a complaint when a federal or State of Wisconsin court or federal or state regulatory agency or the university has previously dealt with the specific complaint, or identical issues, and has determined that such allegations are not discriminatory.
How will the Involved Parties be notified?
Within 14 business days of accepting a discrimination complaint, the Office of Compliance will issue a complaint notification letter to the complainant and to the dean/director/division head in which the respondent is employed. The complaint notification letter will contain the following information: the allegations that will be investigated; a list of federal, state, and university authorities covering the allegations; a statement that retaliation for filing a complaint is forbidden; as well as the name and contact information for the Office of Compliance investigator. The dean/director/division head is responsible for naming a designee who will then assist the investigator with administrative requests (i.e., providing applicable policies, procedures and/or other records). The designee will also provide notification regarding the complaint to the respondent. The designee may be an individual who has supervisory responsibility for the respondent, or the human resources representative within the school, college or division. If, based on the evaluation of the materials supplied by the complainant, the Office of Compliance determines not to conduct an investigation, the complainant will be informed of the Office of Compliance’s decision and the basis for the decision. If appropriate, the notification will contain the names and addresses of relevant State of Wisconsin and federal agencies the complainant may wish to contact to discuss their allegations.
What are the responsibilities of individuals involved with the investigation?
A complainant is expected to cooperate with the Office of Compliance during the investigation. This includes identifying a preferred method for communicating with the Office of Compliance, responding to questions, and providing requested information in a timely manner. The Office of Compliance expects that the information will be as accurate as the complainant can provide based on his or her understanding of the issues and will be responsive to the Office of Compliance’s requests. Complainants are entitled to meet with Office of Compliance staff during work hours without penalty. Supervisors must provide reasonable time during work hours for transportation between complainant worksites and designated meetings places.
The university official is responsible for designating an appropriate contact person; ensure the cooperation of the respondent; make witnesses available; and, provide requested materials in a timely manner. Respondents and employees participating in an investigation are entitled to meet with Office of Compliance staff during work hours without penalty. Supervisors must provide reasonable time during work hours for transportation between complainant worksites and designated meetings places.
A respondent is expected to cooperate with the Office of Compliance during the course of the investigation including responding to questions and supplying requested materials.
What is the time frame of the investigation?
The length of an investigation may be impacted by a number of factors including the availability of the complainant, the respondent, and witnesses and timeliness in providing materials needed to resolve the investigation. When the matter is a student complaint covered by Wis. Stats. § 36.12, the investigation shall be completed within 90 days from the date the complainant was notified that the Office of Compliance had accepted the complaint. If the Office of Compliance is unable to meet the 90-day timeframe, the complainant will be notified and provided with an expected completion date.
It is the goal of the Office of Compliance to complete investigations involving allegations of employment discrimination within 120 days from the date that the complainant was notified that the Office of Compliance had accepted the complaint. If the Office of Compliance is unable to meet the 120-day time frame, the parties will be notified and provided with an expected completion date.
What information will be collected and analyzed during the investigation?
The specific information needed to resolve a complaint will depend on the allegations and may include:
- University policies and procedures related to the allegations
- Interviews with witnesses, the complainant, and the respondent
- Personnel or academic files
- Other sources of information relevant to the investigation
The Office of Compliance will evaluate whether the information collected supports the conclusion that it is more likely than not that the alleged discriminatory conduct occurred, and if so whether it represented a violation of University policy. The Office of Compliance conducts evaluations consistent with relevant statutes, regulations, or policies. In making a decision, the Office of Compliance may use federal and State of Wisconsin court decisions, federal and State of Wisconsin statutes and regulations, federal and State of Wisconsin agency guidance and decisions, UWS and University policies, and previous decisions by the University on similar issues.
What will cause the Office of Compliance to close a complaint without making a finding?
Under the following circumstances the Office of Compliance will close a complaint during the investigation:
Complainant Withdraws Complaint
The Office of Compliance prefers that the request for a withdrawal be contained in a signed document or in a statement that the Office of Compliance will prepare for the complainant. The Office of Compliance will accept a request for a withdrawal in a telephone call or in an e-mail or in a written document. Once the Office of Compliance is apprised of the complainant’s desire to withdraw the complaint, the Office of Compliance will notify the complainant stating that unless the Office of Compliance is informed otherwise by the complainant, the complaint will be closed within 10 calendar days of the date of the letter. After the 10-day period, the Office of Compliance will notify both the university official and the respondent that the complainant has withdrawn by the complaint and the Office of Compliance has closed the matter. After a withdrawal, the complainant may file a new complaint on the same issues providing that it is still timely, e.g., the allegations remain within the 300-day time period.
Allegations Become Moot
This can occur in the following circumstances:
- A federal or a State of Wisconsin court or agency issues a decision on the same issues and determines that these issues are not discriminatory.
- The complainant is deceased, becomes unreachable, or there is no longer an appropriate remedy because the complainant has left the area.
- The complainant is offered a settlement by the university that the Office of Compliance believes remedies the alleged discrimination.
- Under other conditions that reasonably indicate the allegation are moot.
There are other circumstances which may require the Office of Compliance to administratively withdraw a complaint in the interests of fairness, equal opportunity, or justice.
How will the investigation conclude?
Using the preponderance of evidence standard, the Office of Compliance will determine whether there is either sufficient evidence to support the complainant’s allegations. The Office of Compliance will explain the determination with a summary of the allegations, a listing of authorities under which the complainant’s allegation is based, a summary of the information obtained for each allegation, and why the investigation either supported or did not support the allegation.
What are possible outcomes of an investigation?
If the Office of Compliance determines that the information available does not support the allegations, a letter of insufficient evidence will be issued. A letter of insufficient evidence does not mean that the allegations of discrimination made by the complainant did not occur, rather it means that the Office of Compliance could not determine that it is more likely than not that those events occurred. Generally, notification of outcome will include a description of any appeal process available and a list of other agencies with concurrent jurisdiction.
If the Office of Compliance determines that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there is discrimination, the Office of Compliance will include a draft resolution agreement in outcome determination. The Office of Compliance will contact the university official to discuss implementing appropriate remedies. In neither case, will the letters contain the names of the individuals involved or interviewed during the investigation unless they are senior university officials.
The Office of Compliance may recommend remedies when it concludes that there is sufficient evidence to support the complainant’s allegations. The following is not necessarily an exhaustive list. Examples of the remedies that the Office of Compliance can propose are:
- agreement by the respondent to stop the behavior
- a formal apology
- training, counseling, and coaching regarding employment expectations in the academic work environment
- disciplinary action, which could include a written reprimand placed in the respondent’s employment or academic file
- disciplinary transfer to another job location
- loss of merit pay
- employment or academic suspension
- discharge or expulsion
- back pay
- rehiring if terminated
The Office of Compliance cannot guarantee confidentiality to complainants. In general, a completed complaint investigation is considered a public record. Information requested under the State of Wisconsin’s Public Records Law will be redacted as permitted by law once an investigation has been concluded.
If the university acts against an individual who has filed a complaint it is considered a serious offense which can result in disciplinary action. Adverse actions against a complainant are subject to full and thorough investigation by the Office of Compliance.