OCR is headed by the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights whose primary responsibility involves supervising the activities of major components, and serving as the principal advisor to the U.S. Department of Education Secretary on all matters related to civil rights.
Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil RightsTerm of Appointment: August 1, 2013 to Present
Catherine E. Lhamon is the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. President Obama nominated her for this position on June 10, 2013, and she was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 1, 2013. Immediately prior to joining the Department, Lhamon was Director of Impact Litigation at Public Counsel, the nation's largest pro bono law firm. Before that, she practiced for a decade at the ACLU of Southern California, ultimately as Assistant Legal Director. Earlier in her career, Lhamon was a teaching fellow and supervising attorney in the Appellate Litigation Program at Georgetown University Law Center, after clerking for The Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 2004, California Lawyer named Lhamon Attorney of the Year for Civil Rights. The Daily Journal listed her as one of the Top 20 California Lawyers Under 40 in 2007, and as one of the state's Top Women Litigators in 2010 and 2007. Lhamon received her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she was the Outstanding Woman Law Graduate, and she graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College.
From Protecting Civil Rights, Advancing Equity: Report to the President and Secretary of Education FY 13-14 PDF 4.15MB
For nearly five decades, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has stood as a guardian of civil rights in educational institutions nationwide. We have taken seriously our charge to remove barriers to students’ full participation in every facet of educational life. Our progress is palpable: Today, for example, more students of color are graduating from high school and attending college than ever before, educational and athletic opportunities and attainment for girls and women are far greater than they were when Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) was enacted, and all students with disabilities are now assured a free appropriate public education, compared to the era when the quality of their education varied greatly in the absence of legal protections.
Though we have come far, the unfortunate reality is that discrimination remains prevalent even more than four decades after the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title IX, and more than half a century from the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For every success story, civil rights challenges in schools persist nonetheless. Too often, students are harassed or sexually assaulted on campus because of their gender or gender identities, are not allowed to participate equitably in sports because of their disability, are unfairly suspended from school because of their race, or suffer other forms of discrimination.
As the contents of this report illustrate, we in OCR use every tool at our disposal to continue our significant forward progress to realize our nation’s federal civil rights promises for every student in every school. OCR received nearly 10,000 civil rights complaints in each of the past two fiscal years—the highest numbers in OCR history. Breaking all previous records, we also resolved nearly 20,000 cases during this period. During fiscal years (FY) 13–14, we launched 68 proactive investigations independent of any complaint and resolved 44 such investigations. We issued 11 policy guidance documents covering critical civil rights issues in education. We released data from our first universal Civil Rights Data Collection since 2000, covering approximately 97,000 public schools and about 49 million students nationwide. We responded to thousands of public inquiries and requests for technical assistance, and we collaborated with other offices within the Department and with other agencies to amplify the impact of our work and accomplish common goals. Additionally, we increased transparency in our work, posting more than 500 new resolution agreements on our website and publicly releasing lists of institutions under investigation for civil rights violations.
This report chronicles stories of our nation’s students, of injustices faced and justice delivered. The distressing facts behind these cases illustrate precisely why we continue our critical work.
This report also tells the story of OCR. As these pages detail, our talented staff achieve terrific results on behalf of students notwithstanding dismaying obstacles: The number of OCR staff has steadily declined with time, falling to a critical all-time low, even as OCR’s overall caseload has dramatically increased. Through efficiency, innovation, and dedication, this office has continued to fulfill its mission. What we have achieved has been possible only through the skill and unwavering commitment of our expert staff, for whom I am so grateful. And the students who rely on them deserve to see OCR’s staff numbers increase significantly so students may realize full assurance of their civil rights in schools.
I look forward to the privilege of continuing to work with our extraordinary staff to protect civil rights and advance educational equity for all students.
Catherine E. Lhamon
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights