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How does OCR investigate a civil rights complaint?


Once a complaint is received, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) must determine if it has the legal authority to review and investigate the complaint.  OCR authority primarily is over recipients of Federal financial assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and in certain cases over entities for which OCR has been designated enforcement responsibility by another agency.

Once it is clear that OCR has jurisdiction to handle your complaint, the investigator will gather information through interviewing witnesses, obtaining documentation, and making visits to appropriate sites. You may be interviewed again as information is gathered.

At the conclusion of an investigation, the HHS Office for Civil Rights issues a closure letter, which presents OCR's decision on whether there has been a violation of a federal statute or regulation. If there is a violation finding, the recipient is then allowed a specific time period, usually 60 days, to correct the violation or provide OCR with a plan of correction. Corrective action may involve a change in policy or procedure, provision of a service, reinstatement to a job, back pay, restoration of lost benefits, or a notice to clients and employees that a recipient has taken steps to comply with a federal statute or regulation. If a recipient is unwilling to take corrective action to come into compliance, OCR will recommend that enforcement proceedings be initiated. A final decision upholding a finding of a violation may result in the termination of Federal financial assistance to the recipient.

Last Updated: 11/4/2009