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What OCR considers during intake and review of a complaint

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that investigates complaints about:

  • Discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance from HHS on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, and in some cases, sex or religion. 
  • Discrimination on the basis of disability by state programs, services and regulatory activities relating to the provision of health care and social services. 
  • Denial of or discrimination in the provision of services in medical facilities that received funds under the Hill-Burton Act.

OCR carefully reviews all complaints that it receives.  Under the law, OCR may take action on complaints that meet the following conditions.

  • The complaint must be filed against an entity that is under OCR's jurisdiction. If OCR does not have jurisdiction, OCR may refer the matter to another agency that can respond.
  • The complaint must allege an action, policy or procedure covered by relevant laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination. 
  • Complaints must be filed within 180 days of when the person submitting the complaint knew or should have known about the alleged discrimination.
  • OCR may need to reveal the name of the person who filed the complaint.  For example: a person complains about being denied access to communication by a healthcare provider.  For OCR to find out what happened in this case, the OCR investigator likely would have to tell the healthcare provider the name of the person who filed the complaint. In these cases, OCR needs to firsthave that person’s written consent.  If the person refuses to grant consent, OCR would typically close the complaint.  OCR will not disclose the name of the person if it can investigate the complaint without doing so.

If OCR determines that it cannot take action on a particular complaint:

In some cases, OCR may determine that while it cannot investigate an individual's complaint, the allegations are substantial enough to conduct a more general review of the covered entity to determine if its polices, procedures and practices are in compliance with the relevant laws.  In other cases, OCR may be able to refer the matter to another agency that can respond, or provide suggestions about other avenues the complainant can pursue to address the issue.

To file a complaint with OCR, go to How to File a Civil Rights Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

To learn more, see How OCR Enforces Civil Rights Discrimination Laws and Regulations.