No person shall be subject to discrimination on the bases of race, color, or national origin under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

The short answer.

If your agency, company, or organization administers, oversees, or operates a federally assisted program or activity for the public, then Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) applies to your operations.

Indeed, Title VI applies to the entire process of delivering federally assisted programs and activities to the public from start to finish. So, operations of state and local government agencies and sub-agencies, public schools, colleges and universities, community-based and faith-based organizations, private companies, vendors, service providers, operators, contractors, and on-the-job training providers, are governed by Title VI if they are part of delivering federally assisted programs and activities to the public.

Federally assisted programs and activities.

Federally assisted programs and activities governed by Title VI include a tremendous variety of aid, training, benefits, and services offered to the public, which are funded in some part by federal taxpayer dollars. Some examples include public transportation systems, public education, public housing, emergency preparedness and disaster recovery, and operations of public institutions like cultural centers, museums, libraries, and homeless shelters. Other examples include providing medical care and food to the public through programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Each and every one of us is affected by public programs and activities of one sort or another.

Title VI related laws.

Language similar to that found in Title VI can be found in other federal civil rights laws. For example, the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Similarly, the Age Discrimination Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of any age in federally assisted programs and activities. And, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act (Title IX) requires nondiscrimination on the basis of gender in federally assisted educational programs and activities.

The term “program or activity” was initially included in Title VI, the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, and Title IX, but it was not defined under these statutes. So, we’ll take a look at how Congress decided to define this important term in the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (CRRA).

The long arm of the law.

Failure to define the term “program or activity” resulted in considerable litigation and, in the end, Congress enacted the CRRA to provide that the nondiscrimination provisions of Title VI and related laws cover “all operations of” a recipient of federal assistance that is part of a system of delivering services, aid, training, or benefits to the public. Some examples of recipients of federal assistance under the CRRA include:

● State and local government departments, agencies, sub-agencies, special purpose districts, or other instrumentalities or entities of a state or local government;

● Colleges, universities, or other postsecondary institutions, or public systems of higher education;

● An entire corporation, partnership, or other private organization, or an entire sole proprietorship:

(1) If federal assistance is extended to such corporation, partnership, private organization, or sole proprietorship as a whole, or
(2) which is principally engaged in the business of providing education, health care, housing, social services, or parks and recreation

● Any other entity to which federal financial assistance is extended.

In the end, if you receive a federal taxpayer dollar to operate, oversee, or administer, a program or activity for the public, then you must comply with the nondiscrimination provisions of Title VI and related laws. The federal taxpayer dollar may come to you directly from a federal agency, such as the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the like. Or, the federal taxpayer dollar may merely pass through your agency or department to another entity to provide a service, aid, training, or benefit for the public.

For example, let’s say the National Endowment for the Arts provides funds for art education classes to your Governor’s office. The Governor’s office, in turn, relays some of those funds to your city’s agency for the arts, and the city agency turns around and gives a local museum the funding to conduct art education classes. This entire chain of folks from the Governor’s office to the city agency to the local museum must comply with Title VI and related laws in how they oversee, administer, and operate the art education program.

Another example is a college or university that admits a student who pays his or her tuition, in part, with a federally underwritten student loan. The college or university is a recipient of federal financial assistance and must, therefore, comply with applicable nondiscrimination statutes such as Title VI and Title IX.

“All operations” of a recipient are covered.

So, what does it mean to say that “all operations of” an entity receiving federal assistance must comply with Title VI and related laws? The Sixth Circuit’s opinion in Doe v. The Salvation Army, et al., ___ F.3d ___, Case No. 11-3019 (6th Cir. 2012) provides some guidance. Under the facts of the case, Doe sued the Salvation Army claiming disability-based employment discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally assisted programs and activities. Specifically, Doe alleged that he sought to work with the Columbus Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), and “the warehouse supervisor inappropriately asked him in an interview what kind of medications Doe was taking and refused to hire Doe as a truck driver when Doe responded that he was taking ‘psychotropic’ medications.”

As noted by the court, the parties agreed that ARC does not receive any federal funds. As a result, the Salvation Army argued that the ARC program was not covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. On the other hand, the court also noted that the parties agreed that the Salvation Army is a corporation and “certain local units of the Salvation Army do receive direct federal financial assistance.” Thus, the court held that it must determine whether Salvation Army was “principally engaged in the business of providing . . . social services.” If so, then the nondiscrimination requirements of Section 504 would apply to all of its operations.

The Salvation Army argued that Section 504 did not apply because it is principally a “religious organization.” The court disagreed and held:

. . . a corporation of any kind, religious or otherwise, can be principally engaged in the business of providing social services if the organization primarily takes part in matters that promote social well-being.

Here, the court concluded that, although the Salvation Army operated out of religious motivation, a remand was necessary so that the trial judge could determine whether the Salvation Army was principally engaged in the business of providing social services; if so, then Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act would apply to all of its operations. Here, the circuit court specifically noted that, even though ARC did not receive federal funding directly, other components of the Salvation Army did receive such funding. According to the circuit court, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act will apply to all of Salvation Army’s operations provided the trial judge concludes that Salvation Army is “principally engaged in the business of providing social services.”

The CRRA also applies to state and local governments. Here, each state or local department, agency, and sub-agency that receives funding, or other assistance from the federal government to deliver a program or activity to the public, must comply with Title VI as well as any other civil rights laws enforced by the federal funding agency.

So, for example, if a state employment agency receives funds from the U.S. Department of Labor to operate an unemployment insurance program for its public, then the agency and its operations must comply with the nondiscrimination mandates of Title VI, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, Title IX, and the Workforce Investment Act.

On the other hand, a local cultural center that receives funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to operate an art education class for the public must comply with Title VI, Title IX, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

So, a “recipient” of federal financial assistance that must comply with Title VI and related laws includes any entity:

● to whom federal assistance is extended directly or indirectly; and
● which operates a program or activity for the public that receives or benefits from such federal assistance.

Merely benefitting from federal funding is insufficient.

An opinion of the United States Supreme Court illustrates the difference between a “recipient” of federal assistance that must comply with Title VI (and related laws such as Title IX), as opposed to an entity that “merely benefits from federal funding” and is not bound by civil rights laws. In National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n. v. Smith, 525 U.S. 429 (1999), the Court held that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was not subject to the requirements of Title IX, where it merely received dues from members who, in turn, receive federal financial assistance. Here, the Court stated that unlike federal student aid assistance earmarked for education, in Smith, “there is no allegation that NCAA members paid their dues with federal funds earmarked for that purpose.” As a result, the NCAA was not covered by Title IX.

Title VI does not apply to your beneficiaries.

While Title VI and related laws apply to the entire system of delivering federally assisted services, aid, training, and benefits to the public, it does not apply to members of the public. Said differently, individuals seeking to participate in public programs and activities may come with views or beliefs that are contrary to Title VI and related laws. For example, an individual who is sexist, racist, or the like applies for a federally funded training program at the local employment office. If this individual meets the essential eligibility requirements for the training program, then s/he must be allowed to participate in the program. Thus, Title VI and related laws do apply to the process of delivering the training program to the public, but these civil rights laws will not apply to this individual seeking to participate in the program because s/he is the intended “beneficiary” of the program.

About the author.

Seena Foster, award winning civil rights author and Partner of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of compliance and civil rights investigations to state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, and non-profit organizations. To that end, she offers one hour Webinars, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, and mediation services addressing a variety of types of discrimination such as racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and religious discrimination. The federal law on discrimination is complex and affects our workplaces as well as the delivery of our federally funded programs and activities. Her book, Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination, has been described as an “eye-opening” reading experience and a “stand-alone” training resource. Ms. Foster’s resources and materials are designed to support the work of civil rights and discrimination professionals in the public and private sectors. You may contact her through