U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

Frequently Asked Questions on Filing Civil Rights Complaints

 

What will OCR do with my complaint?

We carefully consider all complaints. Upon receiving a Complaint Verification Form (CVF), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will determine whether we have jurisdiction to investigate the complaint and whether the complaint contains enough preliminary information to support a claim. If so, the OCR will then contact you and the agency that is the subject of the complaint to begin an investigation.

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Is there a time limit involved with respect to when I may file my complaint with OCR?

Yes. You should file your complaint as soon as possible. In some instances, depending on the applicable statute, you may have only 180 days after the alleged incident of discrimination to file with the OCR. In other instances, you may have at most one year after the alleged incident of discrimination to file with the OCR.

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Can I make a confidential complaint?

Yes. On request, we will do our best to keep any information we receive confidential. However, we strongly encourage complainants to sign and submit an Identity Release Statement (IRS) along with their complaints. The completed IRS allows us to release a complainant’s name to the agency that is the subject of the complaint. Although completing and signing the IRS is not a requirement for filing a complaint, the absence of an IRS, in most cases, will so constrain our undertaking an investigation that we may have no alternative but to close the complaint.

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What if I am subjected to retaliation for making a complaint?

The civil rights laws that we enforce prohibit agencies that receive Justice Department funding from retaliating against you, if you report that they engaged in unlawful discrimination. A retaliation claim stands independently from the underlying discrimination claim. If you believe you have been the target of retaliation, you should file a complaint with us.

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What are some examples of discrimination in the delivery of services?

An example of discrimination in the delivery of services based on disability would be the failure of a funded correctional facility to provide interpreter services to hearing-impaired inmates An example of discrimination in the delivery of services based on race would be a funded police department's practice of stopping and interrogating, without cause, all Hispanic males driving on a particular highway.

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What is an example of discrimination in employment practices?

An example of discrimination on the basis of sex in the employment practices of a funded law enforcement agency is having a policy preferring males over females in recruiting entry-level patrol officers.

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Can you help find a lawyer to represent me?

No. Unfortunately, the OCR is unable to assist you in finding legal representation. However, you may find the Legal Services Corporation, a federally-funded program to assist low-income people, a valuable resource. The website of the Legal Services Corporation includes information on how to contact a local legal aid office near you.

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Can you give me legal advice about how I should deal with my individual case or problem?

No. OCR attorneys do not represent individual complainants, nor can they give individuals legal advice.

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What is the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968?

The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 3789d, (Safe Streets Act), prohibits recipients that receive federal funding under this statute from discriminating, either in employment practices or in the delivery of services or benefits, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

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What is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq. (Title VI), prohibits recipients of Justice Department financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the delivery of services or benefits. Although Title VI does not ordinarily provide protection against employment discrimination, under certain circumstances, when a primary purpose of a funded program or activity is employment, Title VI may apply to employment discrimination claims. The Justice Department has also interpreted national origin discrimination under Title VI and other funding statutes to require agencies that receive federal financial assistance to take reasonable steps to provide people with limited English proficiency (LEP) meaningful access to the funded agencies’ programs or activities. Find out more about LEP issues.

What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794, (Section 504), prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, in regard to both employment and the delivery of services or benefits, in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

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What is Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, (Title II), prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, in regard to both employment and the delivery of services or benefits, in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. Title II applies to all state and local governments, their departments and agencies, and any other instrumentalities or special purpose districts of state or local governments.

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What is the Age Discrimination Act of 1975?

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975, 42 U.S.C. § 6102) (Age Act), prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The OCR enforces the Age Discrimination Act as it relates to services discrimination on the basis of age. For information on employment discrimination relating to age, please consult with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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Can I File a Third-Party Discrimination Complaint?

Yes. The OCR will accept third-party discrimination complaints on behalf of individuals who are either unable or reluctant to file a claim on their own behalf. However, the absence of a signed Identity Release Statement (IRS) from the aggrieved party may severely limit the OCR’s investigation.

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If the OCR Negotiates with the Funded Agency to Settle My Discrimination Claim, Do I Have Final Say on Whether the Terms are Acceptable?

No. If, after an investigation, the OCR finds that your discrimination complaint has merit, federal regulations require the OCR to try to work with the funded agency that was discriminating to bring it into compliance with the applicable federal civil rights laws. Compliance negotiations may result in a formal resolution agreement, which states the remedial actions the funded agency agrees to take. A complainant has the right to review and comment on the terms of a resolution agreement prior to it becoming final. However, the OCR alone decides the terms of a resolution agreement are acceptable.

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Can I Appeal the OCR’s Disposition of my Complaint?

No. Federal regulations do not provide complainants with the right to appeal the administrative decisions of the OCR. However, if additional facts have come to light to support a claim that the OCR closed, you may write to the OCR and request a reconsideration of your complaint in light of the new evidence.

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Can a Funded Agency’s Failure to have a Complaint Process for Investigating Discrimination Complaints be in Itself the Basis for a Discrimination Claim with the OCR?

Yes. The OCR interprets Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other related program statutes as requiring funded agencies to have procedures for filing discrimination complaints that are accessible to members of the public. Funded agencies should have step-by-step, written grievance procedures that address how members of the public may file a complaint, how the agency investigates a complaint, how the agency ensures impartiality in investigating itself, who is responsible for conducting the investigation, who is responsible for making findings, what the legal standards and time tables are for issuing findings, what duty the agency has to keep the complainant informed at each stage of the complaint process, and what the agency’s obligations are when the complaint investigation shows that remedial actions are warranted.

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Are There Any Fees Connected to Filing a Complaint with the OCR?

No. There are no initial fees or other charges that a complainant must pay in connection to filing a discrimination complaint with the OCR.

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