Air Force Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) and Sexual Harassment

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The primary objective of the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program is to improve mission effectiveness by promoting an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers that prevent Air Force members from rising to the highest level of responsibility possible based on their individual merit, fitness, and capability. Air Force policy is to conduct its affairs free from unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment.

The MEO program seeks to eliminate unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment against military members, family members, and retirees based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. The MEO office assists commanders at all levels by conducting equal opportunity programs and teaching human relations education (HRE) classes at every Air Force installation. The DoD Human Goals Proclamation forms the basis for the Air Force MEO program. It stipulates that equal opportunity and equity in civilian employment regardless of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin will be provided as an integral part of readiness.

Unlawful Discrimination

This type of discrimination is based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex that is not otherwise authorized by statute or policy. Unlawful discrimination degrades human beings, negatively impacts the mission, and violates Air Force policy.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when any of the following situations occur:

  • Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly as a term or condition of a person’s job, pay, or career.
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct by a person is used as a basis for career or employment decisions affecting that person.
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

This definition emphasizes that harassment need not result in tangible psychological harm to the victim, but rather need only be so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would perceive, and the victim does perceive, the work environment as hostile or offensive. The workplace is an expansive term for military members and may include conduct on or off duty, 24 hours a day. Any person in a supervisory or command position who uses or condones any form of sexual behavior to control, influence, or affect the career, pay, or job of a military member or civilian employee is engaging in sexual harassment. Similarly, any military member or civilian employee who makes deliberate or repeated unwelcome verbal comments, gestures, or physical contact of a sexual nature in the workplace is also engaging in sexual harassment.

MEO Complaint Procedures

The Military Equal Opportunity staff encourages military members to try and resolve allegations of unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment at the lowest level or within their chain of command. Staff members also advise members of alternate complaint channels. Military members have several options available to assist them. They may lodge an MEO informal or formal complaint of unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment with the MEO office.

Informal Complaints

When an individual elects to file an informal complaint, he or she can address the concern directly with the offender, request intervention by a coworker, or use his or her chain of command to resolve the concern.

Formal Complaints

If the discriminatory behavior is not resolved, the complainant can opt to file a formal complaint with the Military Equal Opportunity office. When a formal complaint is filed, an MEO staff member will objectively clarify the allegation. The staff member will ask the complainant to outline specific discriminatory behaviors exhibited by the alleged offender. Allegations must be detailed, describing the unlawful behavior, any witnesses, member’s organization, dates, time of occurrence, and location of the alleged behavior. The MEO staff member will inform the alleged offender’s commander that a complaint has been filed.

Complaint Clarification

The MEO office conducts a complaint clarification for all formal complaints under the MEO purview. The clarification will determine whether unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment has occurred. If unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment is confirmed, the case is forwarded to the legal office for review and on to the offender’s commander for actions deemed appropriate. The complaint clarification process takes up to 20 duty days as follows: 9 duty days for the MEO office to conduct a clarification; 6 duty days for legal review; and 5 duty days for commander action. The MEO staff will keep the complainant and his or her commander updated regarding the status of the case until closed.

Equal Opportunity and Treatment Incident (EOTI)

An EOTI is an overt, damaging act directed toward an individual, group, or institution that is motivated by or has overtones of, race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. The Air Force classifies these incidents as minor, serious, or major. The basis for classification includes number of participants, cost of damages to Government or private property, hospitalization, death, and arson.

Preventing Unlawful Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

Establish the Proper Atmosphere in the Work Center

Mission-degrading factors associated with discriminatory behaviors can be avoided if the atmosphere remains professional. Supervisors set the tone for positive rapport. Discriminatory slurs, comments, or jokes must not be permitted in the work center. Racist and sexist jokes can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on the work environment. There is a proverb that says, “The one who uses insults against another may think that they are written in sand, but to the one who receives the insults, they are carved in stone.”

Establish Work Center Policy

Ensure people know that unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Also, ensure military members know they are responsible for their own actions, as well as the conduct of their family members. It must be everyone’s policy, not because the Air Force requires it, but because everyone believes in the principles of the Air Force equal opportunity policy.

Talk With Subordinates on a Regular Basis

Supervisors must establish a rapport with subordinates that fosters positive human relations and be sensitive to the symptoms of increased tension in the workplace, such as requests for transfers, increased absentee problems, and requests for shift changes. The bottom line is to take steps to correct small problems before they become large ones.

Above information derived from AFPAM36-2241V1