As the Equal Opportunity professional for an agency or entity administering federally funded programs and activities, you must develop and publish discrimination complaint policies and procedures. And, as part of those procedures, you must maintain a discrimination complaint log.
In this paper, we will discuss what is included in the log (including how to distinguish between discrimination complaints and program complaints), why the log is important, whether you include complaints that are settled, dismissed, or withdrawn, and how you properly classify (and investigate) pregnancy-related complaints as well as complaints involving harassment and hostile environment.
What do I include in the log?
The U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees compliance with, and enforcement of, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and related laws, states the following:
Each federal agency shall maintain a log of Title VI complaints filed with it, and with its recipients, identifying each complainant by race, color, or national origin; the recipient; the nature of the complaint; the dates the complaint was filed and the investigation completed; the disposition; the date of disposition; and other pertinent information.
. . .
Federal agencies shall report to the Assistant Attorney General on January 1, 1977, and each six months thereafter, the receipt, nature and disposition of all such Title VI complaints.
28 C.F.R. § 42.408(d). And, directly related to your work, these regulations further provide:
Each recipient processing Title VI complaints shall be required to maintain a similar log.
28 C.F.R. § 42.408(d).
In developing and maintaining a discrimination complaint log, one of the key things to keep in mind is that not all types of complaints are recorded in this log. In particular, only those complaints alleging discrimination on a prohibited “basis” are included in this log. These are known as “discrimination complaints.” Here, you must know the civil rights laws enforced by your federal funding agency and the bases of discrimination prohibited by those laws.
On the other hand, if you receive a complaint that does not allege discrimination on a prohibited basis, you will not have jurisdiction to investigate this complaint under federal civil rights laws and the complaint would not be noted in your log. These types of complaints are known as “program complaints.”
As an example, Jane Doe files a complaint with you alleging that she was denied federally funded rental housing assistance because her income level is too high. She states that the income level requirements for the program should be lowered. Here, Jane has not alleged denial of the assistance because of race, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, or the like. Rather, she seeks adjustment of the program’s income level requirements. This is a “program complaint” and would be processed under the federal funding agency’s regulations for operating the program.
If Jane Doe alleges, however, that the black housing counselor denied Jane’s application for federally funded rental housing assistance because Jane is white, then you have a “discrimination complaint” that would be included in your log. Namely, Jane alleges denial of rental housing assistance on the basis of race/color.
Why is the complaint log important?
The complaint log is a valuable asset to you in monitoring your programs and activities to ensure compliance with Title VI and related laws. Preferably, you want to identify and resolve discrimination-related problems at your level as opposed to allowing these problems to draw the interest of your federal funding agency.
Using your complaint log, you will be able to identify instances of alleged discrimination by (1) program or activity, and (2) basis. For example, let’s say you notice an increase in complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in a computer skills training program. Review of your complaint log leads you to notice that nearly all of the complaints involve denial of access to the training facility, which is located on the second floor of a building without an elevator. At this point, you have pinpointed the program or activity (computer skills training) and the basis (disability) of a trend of complaints. With this knowledge, you can approach your training folks to bring the operation of this program into compliance with federal civil rights laws, such as relocating the computer skills training program to the first floor of the building, or moving it to another building that has an elevator.
Properly maintaining your complaint log also will enable you to respond to requests for this data from your federal funding agency, Governor’s office, or the like. And, at times, federal agencies will conduct compliance reviews or desk audits to check compliance with Title VI and related laws and your organization may be selected. Inevitably, one of the key records you will be asked to produce during the review or audit is your discrimination complaint log.
Determine your federal funding agency’s requirements
Because you operate federally assisted programs and activities, you must ensure nondiscrimination and equal opportunity on the basis of race, color, and national origin in compliance with Title VI. The same holds true for the basis of disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. Finally, you also must ensure nondiscrimination and equal opportunity on the basis of age under the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.
Beyond these statutes, however, many federal funding agencies will enforce additional civil rights laws. To properly develop a discrimination complaint log for your programs and activities, you must know the civil rights laws enforced by your federal funding agency.
With regard to the laws it enforces, a federal agency will have regulations located in the Code of Federal Regulations addressing requirements for developing and maintaining your discrimination complaint log. For example, if you receive Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I funding, regulations implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) require that you maintain a log of complaints alleging discrimination on any one or more of the following bases:
● national origin
● political affiliation or belief
● participation in a WIOA-financially assisted program or activity
Moreover, the complaint log must include:
● name and address of the complainant
● the basis of the complaint
● the date the complaint was filed
● the disposition and date disposition was issued
● “other pertinent information”
Finally, DOL regulations require that all records regarding complaints and actions taken on complaints must be maintained for a period of not less than three years from the date of resolution of the complaint. Indeed, DOL’s Civil Rights Center has developed a standardized format that it requires you to use. This standardized complaint log is found at https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/crc/Discrimination3.htm.
Check with the civil rights office of your federal funding agency for similar regulations and standardized complaint log information.
What if I settle the complaint informally?
You are required to enter information pertaining to any discrimination complaint filed, regardless of whether the complaint is decided on the merits, dismissed for lack of probable cause, settled (even settled “informally” or early in the process), or withdrawn.
What types of complaints must be included in the log?
All types of discrimination complaints must be included in your log. This will include individual, class action, and third party complaints. As you are aware, an individual complaint is where an individual comes to you and alleges that s/he has been discriminated against in one of your programs or activities. For example, Josh files a complaint alleging that his bid for a federally funded transportation contract was rejected because he is from Israel. This is an individual complaint alleging national origin-based discrimination.
A class action involves a group of individuals alleging similar acts of discrimination on the same basis (e.g., race, color, national origin, and so on). One example of a class action is where a group of individuals allege that they were denied entry into a federally funded apprenticeship program for welders because they are women.
Finally, there is the third party complaint. As an example, La RAZA complains that your agency only provides unemployment insurance forms in English. La RAZA states that its members cannot complete the application process because they are limited English proficient (LEP) and their native language is Spanish. So, La RAZA has not been injured directly, but is alleging that your unemployment insurance process has a discriminatory impact on an entire class of potential beneficiaries (LEP persons). While you may utilize this type of complaint to conduct monitoring or a compliance review of your the program as opposed to processing the complaint through your traditional discrimination complaint process, it is important to include it in your complaint log.
How do I classify harassment and hostile environment complaints?
When we talk about harassment or hostile environment, most of us think of sexual harassment or hostile sexual environment. However, harassment or hostile environment may occur on any prohibited basis (race, color, national origin, age, disability, and so on). As an example, one student uses Facebook to repeatedly post derogatory remarks about another student from Morocco repeatedly calling the student “terrorist” and the like. The Facebook posts have “gone viral”, and the targeted student subsequently was attacked at your school. You receive a complaint from him. This is a national origin-based hostile environment complaint and would be recorded as such in your complaint log.
And, keep in mind that hostile environment complaints usually involve a series of adverse actions alleged to have occurred because of a person’s race, color, national origin, disability, or the like. So long as a hostile environment complaint is filed within 180 days of the last adverse act, then it is timely and you may consider the entire series of adverse acts to determine whether prohibited hostile environment discrimination occurred.
How do I classify pregnancy-related complaints?
Pregnancy-related complaints often create confusion for the investigator. It is common for these types of complaints to be viewed as disability-related, but most of them are not. Complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of past, present, or the possibility of future pregnancy should be logged (and investigated) as gender-based complaints. Only if the complainant alleges discrimination based on a medical condition or disability resulting from the pregnancy would you investigate this complaint as a disability-based complaint. Pregnancy, standing alone, is not disability.
About Seena Foster
Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.
By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.
With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.”
Ms. Foster has a “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service. She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.