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How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights

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What to do if you see or experience discrimination

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education (ED).

Discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin is prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This includes discrimination based on a person’s limited English proficiency or English learner status; and actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including membership in a religion that may be perceived to exhibit such characteristics (such as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh individuals).

Discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  This includes discrimination based on pregnancy or parental status; sex stereotypes (such as treating persons differently because they do not conform to sex-role expectations or because they are attracted to or are in relationships with persons of the same sex); and gender identity or transgender status.

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is prohibited by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, whether or not they receive federal financial assistance).  This includes discrimination against individuals currently without an impairment that substantially limits of a major life activity, but who have a record of or are regarded as having a disability.

Discrimination on the basis of age is prohibited by Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

These civil rights laws extend to all state education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, libraries and museums that receive federal financial assistance from ED. These include all public schools and most public and private colleges and universities.

Programs or activities that receive ED funds must provide aids, benefits or services in a nondiscriminatory manner in an environment free from discriminatory harassment that limits educational opportunities. Such aids, benefits or services may include, but are not limited to, admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, and housing.  Some of the civil rights laws enforced by OCR also extend to employment.

OCR also enforces the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act. Under this Act, OCR can investigate complaints involving the denial of equal access or a fair opportunity to meet to, or discrimination against, any youth group officially affiliated with a group or organization listed in title 36 of the United States Code (as a patriotic society) that is intended to serve young people under the age of 21 that requests to conduct a meeting at a public elementary school, a public secondary school, or a state or local education agency that receives funds from ED.

How To File a Complaint (Language Assistance Available in Other Languages)

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Who Can File a Discrimination Complaint

Anyone may file a complaint. The person or organization filing the complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may complain on behalf of another person or group. A complainant filing on behalf of or pertaining to another person(s) is responsible for securing any necessary written consent from that individual, including when a parent files for a student over the age of 18.


A complaint must ordinarily be filed within 180 days of the last act of discrimination. If your complaint involves matters that occurred longer ago than this and you are requesting a waiver, you will be asked to show good cause why you did not file your complaint within the 180-day period.

Institutional Grievance Procedures

Prior to filing a complaint with OCR against an institution, a potential complainant may want to find out about the institution’s grievance process and use that process to have the complaint resolved. However, a complainant is not required by law to use the institutional grievance process before filing a complaint with OCR. If a complainant uses an institutional grievance process and also chooses to file the complaint with OCR, the complaint must be filed with OCR within 60 days after completion of the institutional grievance process.

How to File a Complaint

Online: You may file a complaint with OCR using OCR’s electronic complaint form at the following website: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html.

Mail or Facsimile: You may mail or send by facsimile information to the address or phone number available at this link.  You may use OCR’s Discrimination Complaint Form or write your own letter.  If you write your own letter, please include:

  • The complainant’s name, address and, if possible (although not required), a telephone number where the complainant may be reached during business hours;
  • Information about the person(s) or class of persons injured by the alleged discriminatory act(s) (names of the injured person(s) are not required);
  • The name and location (city and state) of the institution that committed the alleged discriminatory act(s); and
  • A description of the alleged discriminatory act(s) in sufficient detail to enable OCR to understand what occurred, when it occurred, and the basis for the alleged discrimination.

Email: You may email OCR’s Discrimination Complaint Form or your own signed letter to ocr@ed.gov. If you write your own letter, please include the information identified above.

For those without current email accounts, Internet access may be freely available from your local public library, and free email accounts are available from several large providers.

Note: A recipient of federal financial assistance may not retaliate against any person who has made a complaint, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in an OCR matter or to interfere with any right or privilege protected by the laws enforced by OCR. If you believe that you have been retaliated against for any of these reasons, you also may file a complaint with OCR.

Where to Write or Call for Further Information

See our "Contact Us" page

Last Modified: 07/21/2016