Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the primary education law that protects people from discrimination based on race, national origin, or color in educational programs or activities. The educational programs or activities that are covered by Title VI are those that receive federal financial assistance. The entity that receives federal financial assistance and must comply is known as the recipient. Recipients that must comply with Title VI include state education agencies, vocational rehabilitation agencies, local education systems, colleges and universities, proprietary institutions, and libraries and museums that receive federal funds.
How Is Title VI Enforced?
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title VI as it applies to programs and activities funded by the federal Department of Education. The OCR has the authority to investigate, negotiate, and resolve complaints from those who complain they were discriminated against due to their race, national origin, or color. For example, if minority students are assigned to public elementary school classes designed for special needs students, the OCR has the authority to investigate this practice. If it finds discrimination, it can require the school to change the practice or lose funding.
The OCR also has the discretion to look into discrimination that was not formally reported and may choose which institutions to investigate and review. For example, if a school district fails to provide equal opportunity to learn to students of Chinese and Mexican origin with limited English-speaking abilities, OCR may investigate and work with the school to resolve the issue.
Filing a Title VI Complaint with OCR
If you believe that you or somebody else has been discriminated against because of race, color, or national origin in a program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, you can file a Title VI complaint with OCR. There are 12 regional OCR offices plus its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
You do not need to be the victim of discrimination yourself to file a complaint. However, the complaint should be filed within 180 days of the date of the discrimination unless the Regional Civil Rights Director extends this time for good cause. Often, there are institutional grievance procedures also available, and if you decide to file a grievance using this procedure, you must file the OCR complaint within 60 days of the last act of the institutional grievance procedure.
In your complaint, you will need to identify yourself, the person who was discriminated against if it was someone else, where the discrimination occurred, and what institution or agency performed the discriminatory act. You will also need to describe the discrimination and provide contact information for witnesses, the complainant, and the institution or agency you claim performed the discriminatory act. Although the identity of the complainant is usually kept confidential, this information may be revealed as necessary to carry out the civil rights investigation, or if the law requires disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or a similar law.
In general, OCR tries to obtain voluntary compliance when it finds there has been Title VI discrimination by a covered recipient. However, if voluntary compliance is not possible, OCR can do one of two things. It can refer the case to the Department of Justice for court proceedings, or it can initiate proceedings to terminate federal funding to the program or activity in which the discrimination occurred. The latter will happen only after a recipient has a hearing before an administrative law judge, and appeals have been exhausted.
You may be wondering whether the school, program, or activity can terminate you or take another adverse action against you for reporting discrimination or participating in someone else's report of discrimination. Retaliation is a violation of Title VI. Recipients are not permitted to retaliate against anyone that makes charges of discrimination in violation of Title VI, or for participating in any complaint action under Title VI.