The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a final rule clarifying “the roles and responsibilities of USDA’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (OASCR) and USDA agencies in enforcing nondiscrimination in programs or activities conducted by USDA.” Intended to “strengthen the agency’s civil rights compliance and complaint processing activities to better protect the rights of USDA customers,” the final rule requires OASCR and other USDA agencies to “collect, maintain and annually compile data on the race, ethnicity and gender (REG) of all conducted program applicants and participants by county and State.” To facilitate early resolution of complaints, the agency also stipulates that “OASCR shall offer Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services to complainants where appropriate.”

In addition, the final rule establishes two new protected bases: political beliefs and gender identity. “This amendment is meant to make explicit protections against discrimination based on USDA program customers’ political beliefs or gender identity,” states the agency. “Gender identity includes USDA program customers’ gender expression, including how USDA customers act, dress, perceive themselves, or otherwise express their gender.” See Federal Register, July 16, 2014.