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Civil rights are personal rights guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal laws enacted by Congress, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Civil rights include protection from unlawful discrimination.
"Vital documents" are generally documents that affect access to, retention in, or termination or exclusion from a recipient’s program services or benefits.
If you feel a health care provider, human services agency, or program or activity conducted by HHS has discriminated against you (or someone else) unlawfully, you may file a civil rights compliant with OCR.
If you believe you have been discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, age, disability, religion, or sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) by a state and local social and health services agency, hospital, clinic, nursing home, or other HHS entity, you may file a complaint with OCR. Disability discrimination complaints may also be filed with OCR.
Complaints must be filed within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination. (The Office for Civil Rights may extend this period if there is good cause.)
You can file your complaint against an HHS entity via the OCR Complaint Portal, at OCRComplaint@hhs.gov, or you can mail or fax your complaint. See Filing a Complaint for more information.
The following are recipients of federal financial assistance from HHS:
In most cases, yes. Under most of the statutes enforced by the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), a complainant who has been discriminated against may initiate private court action instead of, or in addition to, filing a complaint with OCR. To do so, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible.
The HHS Office for Civil Rights will try to identify the appropriate federal agency and refer your case unless you advise us not to.
Once a complaint is received, OCR must determine if it has the legal authority to review and investigate the complaint. OCR’s primary authority is over certain health and human services entities only. Information is then gather in an investigation, and we will issue 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 must take corrective action.
View the list of offices that address alleged discrimination by an HHS-funded health or human services entity.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that protects persons from unlawful discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Recipients of federal financial assistance are covered by Title VI and its implementing regulations. This means that such recipients may not treat people differently on the basis of race, color, or national origin or use criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of discriminating against persons on the basis of their race, color, or national origin.
Medicaid and CHIP are considered federal financial assistance. Medicare Part A is also considered federal financial assistance. However, the receipt of Medicare Part B is not considered federal financial assistance. Medicare Part C and Part D are considered federal financial assistance.
Recipients of federal financial assistance include:
HHS’s LEP policy guidance implements a provision of Executive Order 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons With Limited English Proficiency, that directs Federal agencies to work to ensure that recipients of their funds provide meaningful access to LEP customers.
Please see Civil Rights Enforcement through Other Agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is not a government agency, and it decides what issues to become involved in on a case-by-case basis. “Civil liberties” encompasses many more rights than those enforced by the HHS Office for Civil Rights. It also concerns freedom of speech, association, and religion. For further information, call the local ACLU office in your area.
OCR enforces laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, age, race, color, national origin, religion, and sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity) in the provision of health and social services only. OCR can investigate only matters that are covered by the laws it enforces.
Most employment discrimination complaints, especially those against private employers, should be addressed to the local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that services your state.
TANF agencies must comply with:
Additionally, TANF agencies are typically part of state or local governments and must comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
No. TANF agencies have the same legal obligations to comply with Title VI, Section 504, the ADA, the Age Discrimination Act, and Title IX that they had prior to the DRA and its changes to TANF.
Under Section 504 and the ADA, TANF agencies must: (1) ensure equal access to people with disabilities; (2) reasonably modify policies, practices, and procedures for people with disabilities where necessary; and (3) ensure that methods of administration do not discriminate on the basis of disability.
Yes. Section 504 and the ADA require nondiscriminatory treatment of people with disabilities by TANF agencies. By focusing on what applicants and beneficiaries with disabilities need in order to move from government dependency to self-sufficiency, TANF agencies can ensure compliance with civil rights laws. If a TANF client with a disability needs a program modification or accommodation and providing the modification means that the State will not be able to count the person in its Federal work participation rate, the State is still obligated to provide the program modification.
For further information on TANF agency civil rights compliance and meeting the needs of TANF applicants and beneficiaries with disabilities or limited English proficiency, please contact the Office for Civil Rights or your regional TANF program manager in the HHS Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance.
Privacy Act notice and confidentiality rules are in place. In Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigations, the name of the complainant usually is kept confidential unless its disclosure is necessary to the case. If OCR determines that release of your identity is required for the processing of the case, you will be asked to sign a release. If you choose not to provide a release, the investigation may be impeded or stopped.
The requirement to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to LEP persons is enforced by OCR through the procedures identified in the Title VI implementing regulations. These procedures include complaint investigations, compliance reviews, efforts to secure voluntary compliance, and technical assistance.
HHS agencies provide a variety of services for LEP persons. These services include oral language assistance services such as language lines and interpreters; translation of written materials; and foreign language web sites. HHS continues to explore how it can share language assistance measures, resources, cost-containment approaches, and other information and knowledge, developed with respect to its own federally conducted programs and activities, and welcomes any suggestions.
No. OCR enforces Title VI in accordance with the Title VI implementing regulations. The methods and procedures used to investigate and resolve complaints, and conduct compliance reviews, have not changed.