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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, OCR will determine whether it has jurisdiction to investigate the complaint and whether the complaint contains enough preliminary information to support a claim. If so, OCR will contact you and the agency that is the subject of the complaint to begin an investigation.

Is there a time limit for when I may file my complaint with OCR?

Yes. You should file your complaint as soon as possible. In some instances, you may have only 180 days after the alleged incident. In others, you may have at most one year after the alleged incident to file with OCR.

Can I make a confidential complaint?

Yes. On request, we will do our best to keep all information confidential. However, we strongly encourage complainants to also sign and submit an Identity Release Statement. This allows OCR to release a complainant's name to the agency that is the subject of the complaint. Although submitting the IRS is not required, its absence often constrains OCR's investigation so much that it must close the complaint.

What if I receive retaliation for making a complaint?

Civil rights laws prohibit agencies that receive Justice Department funding from retaliating against you. A retaliation claim stands independent from the underlying discrimination claim. If you believe you have been the target of retaliation, you should file a complaint with us.

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

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

What is an example of discrimination in employment practices?

An example would be a policy that prefers males over females in recruiting entry-level patrol officers.

Can you help find a lawyer to represent me?

Unfortunately, OCR is unable to assist you in finding legal representation. However, the Legal Services Corporation, a federally funded program to assist low-income people, is often a valuable resource. The Legal Services Corporation website includes information on how to contact a legal aid office near you.

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 give individual legal advice.

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

This Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 3789d (Safe Streets Act), prohibits recipients who receive federal funding under this statute from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

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

This Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq. (Title VI), prohibits recipients of financial assistance from the Justice Department of discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the delivery of services or benefits. Under certain circumstances, when a primary purpose of a funded program or activity is employment, Title VI may apply also to employment discrimination claims. The Justice Department has also interpreted national origin discrimination to require funding recipients to provide people with limited English proficiency access to their programs or activities.

What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Section 504, 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.

What is Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Title II of the Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (Title II), prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in employment and the delivery of services or benefits in public entities. Title II applies to all state and local governments.

What is the Age Discrimination Act of 1975?

This Act of 1975, 42 U.S.C. § 6102 (Age Act), prohibits age discrimination in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. OCR enforces this Act related to services discrimination based on age. For more, see Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Can I file a third-party discrimination complaint?

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

If OCR negotiates with the funded agency to settle my claim, do I have final say on accepting the terms?

No. If OCR finds that your complaint has merit, federal regulations require OCR to work with the funded agency to bring it into compliance with applicable federal civil-rights laws. These negotiations may result in a formal resolution agreement, which states remedial actions the funded agency agrees to take. A complainant has the right to review and comment on a resolution agreement before it becomes final. However, OCR alone decides that the resolution agreement's terms are acceptable.

Can I appeal OCR's disposition of my complaint?

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

Can a funded agency's failure to have a process for investigating discrimination complaints be in itself the basis for a discrimination claim with OCR?

Yes. 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 the public. Funded agencies should have step-by-step, written grievance procedures that address how individuals 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, and what the agency's obligations are when the complaint investigation shows that remedial actions are warranted.

Are there fees for filing a complaint with OCR?

No. A complainant must not pay any fees or charges.

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