AA/EEO Policies

Nondiscrimination

The University of Southern Mississippi offers to all persons equal access to educational, programmatic and employment opportunities without regard to age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, race, color, national origin, Vietnam-era veteran status or disability status. These provisions are pursuant to applicable federal and state regulations.

Questions regarding the University AA/EEO policies may be directed to the following:

 

OFFICE OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND EQUAL
EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
Rebecca N. Woodrick, Ph.D., Director
McLemore Hall (MCL) 310, Hattiesburg Campus
118 College Drive #5168
Hattiesburg, MS 39406-0001
Phone: 601.266.6618
Fax: 601.266.6344
Email: Rebecca.Woodrick@usm.edu 
or
OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Atlanta Federal Center, S.W.
61 Forsyth Street, S.W.
Atlanta, GA 30303-8909
Phone: 404.562.7886
Fax: 404.562.7881
TDD: 404.331.2867

Effective Aug. 1, 2003

AA/EEO Complaint Procedure

Any employee, student, applicant for admission or employment, or other participant in programs or activities of The University of Southern Mississippi who believes she or he has been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of age, sex, sexual orientation, color, race, religion, national origin, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status by a university employee may, in accordance with the procedures described below,  file a complaint with the Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity.

Students or employees who wish to file complaints against students should contact the Office of the Dean of Students:

 R. C. Cook Union, Room 231

  • Phone: 601.266.6028
  • Email: dean.students@usm.edu

Federal law, as well as university policy, prohibits any form of retaliation against a person who files a discrimination complaint in good faith.

CONFIDENTIALITY

Complaints filed with the university will remain confidential to the extent allowed by law, while also allowing for a complete investigation. University personnel involved in or responsible for any aspect of a complaint, including the appeals process, shall maintain confidentiality throughout the processing of the complaint. All parties involved in the complaint process are expected to maintain confidentiality, both during the process and afterward.

RETALIATION

The university seeks to create an environment where students and employees are free to explore the possible violation of their civil rights without fear of reprisal. Retaliation is illegal and will not be tolerated by the university. Similarly, persons who use this process to bring bad faith allegations against an employee may be subject to disciplinary action.

Employees and students are encouraged, where feasible, to reach an informal resolution to complaints through the administrative reporting structure of the academic or employment unit. However, if the complaint cannot be resolved by this avenue, or if the complainant wishes to access a formal process instead, the following procedures apply:

Step 1

Complaints must be received in writing in the Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity within a reasonable period of time from the most recently alleged discriminatory act. “Reasonable” will be defined as 30 calendar days from such alleged action.

[Note: At the discretion of the Office of AA/EEO, in certain situations, complaints filed outside of this time limit may be investigated despite stated timelines.]

Complaint forms may be obtained in the Office of AA/EEO, 310 McLemore Hall. The written complaint must include the complainant’s name and signature, and must include a brief written description of the alleged discriminatory act(s), as well as the name(s) of the person(s) who allegedly is/are responsible for such act(s).

Step 2

The director of the AA/EEO office will meet with the complainant and subsequently will determine if the written and verbal description of the alleged discriminatory act warrants further investigation into the allegations as presented. If it is determined that no potential violation of civil rights relating to university policy is being presented, the Office of AA/EEO will notify the complainant of such in writing within 10 working days of written receipt of the complaint. This notification will explain why the complaint does not state a possible violation of civil rights law or policy and may inform the complainant of other avenues of redress, as appropriate.

Step 3

If the Office of AA/EEO determines that the complaint as presented may involve a violation of civil rights related to university policy, the complainant and respondent will be notified in writing of such. If determined appropriate by the Office of AA/EEO, the complainant will be given the option to pursue mediation as resolution to his/her concerns. See “Mediation” below.

If the nature of the complaint is such that mediation is inappropriate or the complainant or respondent declines mediation or if mediation fails, the director of AA/EEO or his or her designee will investigate the allegation(s). The director of the Office of AA/EEO will inform the following parties that a complaint has been filed and that an investigation will be conducted: the complainant, the respondent(s), the respondent’s department head, dean, vice president and the president.

A typical investigation will involve meeting with the complainant, the person(s) named in the complaint, and with other people who may have knowledge relevant to the investigation. Upon completion of the investigation, the director of the Office of AA/EEO will issue a written report in which the findings of the investigation will indicate either sufficient or insufficient evidence to support the allegation(s).

This determination will be based upon information obtained as a result of the investigation process. The complainant and the respondent will receive written notification of the findings. Written notification of the findings will also be sent to the administrators listed above.

In the event that there is a finding of a violation of university policy, the director of the Office of AA/EEO will recommend to the appropriate vice president that a directive be issued to stop the discriminatory behavior and make recommendations concerning disciplinary action against the respondent.

Additionally, corrective action, when appropriate, will be recommended to eradicate the effect of the discriminatory behavior. The vice president to whom the report is sent will issue written notification of disciplinary action within 10 working days of receipt of report from the Office of AA/EEO.

Details of the disciplinary action will not be shared with the complainant, nor may the complainant appeal the disciplinary action itself. The respondent may, however, appeal the disciplinary action.

In the event that there is a finding of insufficient evidence of a violation of university policy, the director of the Office of AA/EEO will notify the complainant, respondent and above-named university administrators.

Step 4

Should the complainant or the respondent wish to appeal the decision(s) of the Office of AA/EEO or decision of the vice president made at step 3, she or he may do so in writing to the Office of the President within 10 working days from the date of written receipt of decisions made at step 3. The president will appoint a panel and will name a panel convener. The panel will be comprised of three employees, with at least one tenured faculty employee and one non-faculty employee.

The complainant or respondent may request an appeal panel review on any of the following grounds:

      a. that the complaint procedure was not followed;

      b. that new information is to be presented, or which could have had a material effect upon the findings

The appellant will provide a written request to the Office of the President for an appeal, citing at least one of the bases listed above, within 10 working days from the date of the written receipt of the decision made at step 3. The president will appoint the panel as described above. The panel will determine if at least one of the grounds for appeal has been met. If its determination is that neither of the grounds has been met, the appellant will be notified of such in writing.

If the panel determines that at least one of the grounds for appeal has been met, the panel convener will notify both the complainant and the respondent in writing that the appeal panel will meet and review the information provided by the appellant. The panel will share with the other party the information provided by the appellant. Both parties will be invited to present information to the panel at a date decided upon by the panel convener.

Once the appeal panel has reached a determination, it will recommend, in writing, that the Office of the President reverse, amend or uphold the finding or the disciplinary action. The panel is empowered to make recommendations only.

MEDIATION

Mediation is a process by which the university attempts to resolve complaints to the satisfaction of all involved parties without reaching a formal finding regarding a violation of the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Mediation seeks to protect the confidentiality of all involved parties to the extent allowed by law. At any time during the mediation process either party may choose to terminate the process, and the complaint will then be investigated by the Office of AA/EEO per procedures listed above.

Generally, mediation will involve only the complainant, the respondent and the mediator. If the complaint is successfully resolved through mediation, each party will sign a document that describes the mutually agreed-upon terms. Any deviation from the terms of the agreement allows either party the right to re-file formal charges with the Office of AA/EEO.

PROCEDURES FOR REVIEW BY APPEAL PANEL

  • Appellant makes request in writing to the Office of the President within 10 working days of receipt of determination letter.
  •  President appoints a three-person panel to review the request, designating a convener from that group. The panel will consist of at least one tenured faculty member, one staff member and one person from the employee group ofwhich the appellant is a member.
  • Panel reviews request and determines if ground(s) for appeal have been satisfied. If not, panel indicates such in writing to appellant.
  • If panel determines that appropriate grounds have been established (from the bases listed in the complaint procedures), it will determine a date and time for the panel to hear the appeal and will notify both parties of such.

Information provided by the appellant will be shared with theopposing party. The panel may request involvement in the hearing from any member of the university whom it believes may have information pertinent to the appeal.

These people include the AA/EEO officer and any witnesses that either party may recommend to the panel. Witnesses are invited to participate at the discretion of the panel.

  • Hearings will be conducted as follows: 
  1. Chair will invite appellant to give a brief overview of the reason(s) for appeal.
  2.  Panel members will be invited to question appellant.
  3.  Opposing party will be allowed to respond to ground(s) on which appellant appealed.
  4. Panel member will be invited to question other party.

The panel will reach a determination either supporting the findings or disciplinary action, or supporting the appeal of the appellant. The panel will forward its findings and any recommendations to the president for his review. Within 10 working days of receipt of the panel’s findings, the president will inform all involved parties in writing of his decision, based on input from the appeal panel.

Consensual Relationships
There are special problems in any romantic or sexual relationship between individuals where one party possesses direct academic, administrative, supervisory, evaluative, counseling or extracurricular authority over the other party. Such positions include, but are not limited to, teacher and student or assistant, supervisor and employee, senior faculty and junior faculty, mentor and trainee, advisor and advisee, counselor and client, teaching assistant and student, coach and athlete, and the individuals who supervise the day-to-day student living environment and student residents.

A unique problem occurs when a consensual relationship takes place between a teacher and a student and the student is enrolled in one of the teacher’s courses, or when the student is likely to be enrolled in such a course in the future. Such relationships are of significant concern to the university because of the ethical and administrative problems they can pose.Because of the potential for conflict of interest, exploitation, favoritism, harassment and bias, such relationships may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision and evaluation provided, and the trust inherent particularly in the teacher-student context.

There are numerous ways in which a consensual romantic or sexual relationship can create problems within the university community. For example:

  •  What seems to be consensual to the party in the position of authority may well be unwelcome or coercive from the perspective of the other party. Where a party has the ability to grade, advance, promote, recommend, or otherwise influence the employment or academic status of another, that person may fear that refusal will result in loss of employment or academic benefit. They may even consent to the relationship even though it is in fact unwelcome.
  •  There is also a serious risk that either party may exploit the other. The more senior person may be interested in the other person solely for sexual or romantic reasons, but the other person may construe that attention to be due to intellect and academic interest. There is also the risk that the person with less authority might seek out a relationship  solely because of a desire to obtain some academic or employment benefit from the relationship. 
  • The circumstances may change, and conduct that was previously welcome may become unwelcome. Prior consent does not remove grounds for a charge based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct.
  • The relationship can cause problems for both parties and harm the academic and work environment at the university. There is the appearance, and often the reality, of a conflict of interest on the part of both parties to the relationship. Third parties may believe that the person in authority favors the other person because of the relationship, thus creating an atmosphere of suspicion and resentment among others who think that person is obtaining undeserved benefits.

No university employee shall enter into or maintain any romantic or sexual relationships with students or with employees over whom they exercise any academic, administrative, supervisory, evaluative, counseling or extracurricular authority or influence. Similarly, no university employee shall exercise any academic, administrative, supervisory, evaluative, counseling or extracurricular authority over any student or employee with whom that employee had previously been involved in a romantic or sexual relationship.

Teaching professionals in particular are under a special obligation to preserve the integrity of their relationships with students, and therefore are expected to maintain at all times the highest level of professionalism with students, whether or not any real or perceived authority over the student exists.

For purposes of this policy, the following terms are defined: 

  • Employee: Any person employed by The University of Southern Mississippi as faculty or staff, full-time or part-time. This definition includes graduate assistants and adjunct faculty.
  •  Student: Any person enrolled full-time or part-time in any academic program associated with The University of Southern Mississippi.
  •  Consensual relationship: A sexual and/or romantic relationship between two persons who voluntarily enter into such relationship.

Note: Non-consensual relationships are addressed in the university’s sexual harassment policy and/or the university’s sexual misconduct policy.. Marital and family relationships are addressed in the university’s nepotism policy