Spring 2013 Newsletter
OCR Issues Reminder that Civil Rights Laws Prohibit Retaliation
In April, the Office for Civil Rights (ORC) of the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance reminding school districts and postsecondary institutions like Western that it is illegal to retaliate against an individual for complaining about a potential civil rights violation. As the OCR letter states, “the ability of individuals to oppose discriminatory practices, and to participate in OCR investigations and other proceedings, is critical to ensuring equal educational opportunity in accordance with Federal civil rights laws. . . . Individuals should be commended when they raise concerns about compliance with the Federal civil rights laws, not punished for doing so.”
Retaliation, which includes “intimidating, threatening, coercing, or in any way discriminating against the individual” because the person complained, is impermissible regardless of whether the complaint is made to the school formally or informally.
In accord with applicable laws and the OCR guidance, Western’s Policy on Providing Equal Opportunity and Nondiscrimination makes clear that “individuals who believe they have been subject to discrimination based on a legally protected category are encouraged to report incidents to the proper internal and/or external authorities.” Retaliating against someone because they raise a concern or complaint of illegal discrimination or participate in the processes outlined in Western’s Discrimination Complaint Procedure is serious misconduct. Such retaliation is itself independent grounds for a complaint even if the initial complaint of discrimination or harassment does not result in a finding that illegal discrimination occurred.