One of the ways that OCR carries out its enforcement responsibilities is to investigate complaints that allege discrimination. OCR also conducts “compliance reviews” to determine if policies, procedures and actions of covered entities are consistent with civil rights laws. Finally, OCR educates covered entities about their obligations under civil rights laws, and educates members of the public about their rights under those laws.
OCR can investigate only those complaints that fall within its jurisdiction. OCR must have enforcement authority over the covered entity (e.g., hospital, doctor, adoption agency, etc.), and the complaint must describe one or more discriminatory actions, policies, or procedures. See What OCR Considers During Intake and Review of a Complaint for a description of the types of cases OCR can investigate and resolve. See Examples of "Covered Entities" Under the Nondiscrimination Laws Enforced by OCR for the types of health and social service providers under OCR’s jurisdiction. Read Civil Rights Enforcement through Other Agencies for information about agencies that have jurisdiction over other types of discrimination complaints, including complaints related to housing, education, employment, courts, and others.
If OCR needs information to determine whether the complaint meets these requirements, it may contact the person who filed the complaint for more information. If OCR determines that a complaint is against an entity over which OCR has jurisdiction, and the complaint describes one or more discriminatory actions, policies or procedures, OCR will notify the complainant and the covered entity. Then the complainant and the covered entity will be asked to present information about the incident or problem described in the complaint. Covered entities are required by law to cooperate with complaint investigations.
OCR reviews the information, or evidence, that it gathers in each case. In some cases, OCR may determine that the covered entity did not violate the requirements of the applicable law.
If the evidence indicates that the covered entity was not in compliance with the applicable regulation or law, OCR will attempt to resolve the case by obtaining corrective action through a voluntary agreement with the covered entity. OCR will notify the complainant and the covered entity of the result of the investigation.
If the covered entity does not take voluntary action to resolve the matter in a way that is satisfactory, OCR will issue a Letter of Findings that describes how the covered entity is not in compliance and identifies next steps, which may include referral to the Department of Justice for enforcement action; steps to terminate Federal financial assistance to the covered entity; or other actions.
To understand how to file a complaint with OCR, go to How to File a Civil Rights Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
Learn more about What OCR Considers During Intake & Review of a Complaint