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Legal Authorities for OCR

Authority

OCR, a Departmental office, is headed by a Director who reports to and is responsible to the Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration (the “CFO/ASA”) and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration (the “DAS”). The Director shall be the advisor to the CFO/ASA and DAS regarding Department of Commerce (the “Department”) responsibilities under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Act of 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Sections 501, 504, and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, Section 310 of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. 7201), Executive Orders 11764, 11914, 11948, 12250 (nondiscrimination in Federally funded programs), 12106 and 13087 (nondiscrimination in Federal employment) and 12876, 12900, and 13021 (outreach to minority serving institutions) and all other statutes, Executive Orders, and regulatory provisions relating to equal employment opportunity, nondiscrimination, and civil rights.

The Director shall be assisted by a Deputy Director, who shall participate with the Director in management of the activities of the office, and who shall perform all functions of the Director in the latter’s absence. The Deputy Director shall also oversee Equal Employment Opportunity operations pertaining to the Decennial Census.

In addition to the authority implicit in and essential to carrying out the functions assigned to the Office, the Director:
 

  • Is delegated all authorities and responsibilities vested in the CFO/ASA and DAS for the development and management of all Office of Civil Rights and diversity policies and programs, including administration on behalf of the CFO/ASA and DAS as required by 29 CFR 1614: the direction, administration, processing and authority to take final action on all complaints of discrimination and all aspects of Affirmative Employment Planning.
  • Is authorized to redelegate authority to other officials of the Department, and within the Office of Civil Rights, subject to such conditions as may be prescribed.
  • Shall serve as adviser to, and the representative of, the CFO/ASA and DAS on all matters of Civil Rights/ Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) administration.
  • Is responsible for providing the full range of Civil Rights/EEO advice and services to the Office of Secretary and to such other components of the Department as may be warranted.

Functions

  • Have Department-wide staff responsibility for ensuring equal employment opportunity, including affirmative action, for employees and job applicants within the Department. This includes nondiscrimination in activities and projects supported by the Department, including Title VI, Title IX, nondiscrimination for individuals with disabilities and all other civil rights mandates.
  • Develop, direct, and coordinate Department programs, policies, and activities to ensure the accomplishment of EEO and civil rights responsibilities, and evaluate the implementation of these actions.
  • Provide guidance to the operating units in the performance of their EEO and civil rights responsibilities.
  • Develop and administer evaluation programs to determine the effectiveness of Department operating units’ EEO and civil rights performance, and report the results to the CFO/ASA and DAS, and the head of each affected Departmental office or operating unit;
  • Process EEO complaints within the Department and ensure that remedies ordered as a result of discrimination complaints or affirmative action initiatives:
    • accomplish what is intended by the remedy;
    • are permitted legally; and
    • appropriately resolve any conflicts between the rights of a victim of discrimination and the rights of an exclusive representative under any governing labor/management relations obligations.
  • Establish and maintain a close working relationship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Justice, Office of Personnel Management, Merit Systems Protection Board, and other government agencies; and cooperate closely with Departmental offices and operating units, particularly with the Office of Human Resources Management on EEO and personnel management matters.
  • With the Department’s General Counsel, advise the CFO/ASA and DAS and recommend corrective action on violations of civil rights or EEO statutes, Executive Orders, or regulations over which the Department has jurisdiction and for which legally sufficient corrective action has not been initiated.
  • Represent the Department and the CFO/ASA and DAS with other Federal agencies on matters regarding equal opportunity and affirmative action policies and programs of the Department.
  • Develop and administer a full range of activities involving the Department's relationships with minority-serving institutions and organizations dedicated to minority-focused education initiatives.
  • Administer the efforts in supporting and exploring activities that promote, recognize, and value diversity in the workforce. Provide staff support for the Department's Diversity Council.
  • Periodically establish a temporary, expedited complaint processing program to meet the unique needs of the Decennial Census.

Laws

  • Nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, under any program receiving Federal financial assistance from the Department, see 15 CFR 8.
  • Nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance, in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, see 15 CFR 8a.
  • Nondiscrimination against persons with disabilities in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, see 15 CFR 8b.
  • Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in programs or activities conducted by the Department, in accordance with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, see 15 CFR 8c.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (hyperlinked text is taken from the information listed on the EEOC web site).
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a new law requiring that employees are provided “reasonable accommodations” to their known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship.  The PWFA applies only to accommodations. The PWFA does not replace federal, state, or local laws that are more protective of workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PWFA went into effect on June 27, 2023.  For the PWFA to apply, the matter complained of must have happened on June 27, 2023 or later.   EEOC’s guidance (“What You Should Know About the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act”) on this law may be found at: https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-pregnant-workers-fairness-act.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (hyperlinked text is taken from the information listed on the EEOC web site).
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (hyperlinked text is taken from the information listed on the EEOC web site).
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Sections 501 and 505 (hyperlinked text is taken from the information listed on the EEOC web site).
  • The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 (Public Law 102-559): The standards used to determine whether section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 791), has been violated in a complaint alleging nonaffirmative action employment discrimination under this part shall be the standards applied under Titles I and V (sections 501 through 504 and 510) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (42 U.S.C. 12101, 12111, 12201), as such sections relate to employment. These standards are set forth in the Commission's ADA regulations at 29 CFR part 1630
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)
  • Sections 102 and 103 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991: Among other things, this law amends Title VII and the ADA to permit jury trials and compensatory and punitive damage awards in intentional discrimination cases.
  • The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (Pub. L. 111 -2): Amends Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the ADA and the Rehab Act to clarify the time frame in which victims of discrimination may challenge and recover for discriminatory compensation decisions or other discriminatory practices affecting compensation.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008.

Executive Orders

Executive orders are official documents, numbered consecutively, through which the President of the United States manages the operations of the federal government.
  • Executive Order 11478 - Equal Employment Opportunity in the Federal Government, August 8 1969. Amended by Executive Order 13672, July 21, 2014.
  • Executive Order 12106 - Transfer of Certain Equal Employment Enforcement Functions, December 28, 1978.
  • Executive Order 12928 - Promoting Procurement with Small Businesses Owned and Controlled by Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Individuals, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Minority Institutions, September 16, 1994.
  • Executive Order 13078 - Increasing Employment of Adults with Disabilities, March 13, 1998.
  • Executive Order 13087 - Further Amendment to Executive Order 11478, Equal Employment Opportunity in Federal Government, May 28, 1988. Provides a uniform Executive Branch policy for the Federal Government to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Federal civilian workforce.
  • Executive Order 13124 - Amending the Civil Service Rules Relating To Federal Employees With Psychiatric Disabilities, June 4, 1999.
  • Executive Order 13125 - Increasing Participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, June 7, 1999. Amended by Executive Order 13216, June 6, 2001.
  • Executive Order 13152 - Further Amendment to Executive Order 11478, Equal Employment Opportunity in Federal Government, May 2, 2000.
  • Executive Order 13548- Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities
  • Executive Order 13164 - Requiring Federal Agencies to Establish Written Procedures for Processing Requests of Reasonable Accommodation, July 26, 2000.
  • Executive Order 13166 - Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency - August 11, 2000.
  • Executive Order 13171- Hispanic Employment in the Federal Government, October 12, 2000.
  • Executive Order 13187 - The President's Disability Employment Partnership Board
  • Executive Order 13216 - Amendment to Executive Order 13125, Increasing Participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Federal Programs, June 6, 2001. [Changes title to Increasing Opportunity and Improving Quality of Life of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and extends the term of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian and Pacific Islanders]
  • Executive Order 13555 - White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics
  • Executive Order 13256 - President's Board of Advisors for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, February 12, 2002.
  • Executive Order 13270 - Tribal Colleges and Universities, July 3, 2002.
  • Executive Order 13339 - Increasing Economic Opportunity and Business Participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
  • Biden Administration Executive Orders 13985, 13988, 14031 and 14035 and Equity Presidential Memorandums  

Policy Guidance

Laws OCR enforces for recipients of Commerce financial assistance  

Disability Discrimination

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs the Department of Commerce provides with financial assistance or conducts. The Commerce implementing regulations are 15 C.F.R. Part 8b, Prohibition of Discrimination Against the Handicapped in Federally Assisted Programs Operated by the Department of Commerce, and 15 C.F.R. Part 8c, Enforcement of Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Handicap in Programs or Activities Conducted by the Department of Commerce.
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology (EIT) be accessible to persons with disabilities, including employees and members of the public. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use EIT. As amended in 1998, the law directed the Access Board to create binding, enforceable standards that spell out what makes EIT products accessible to persons with disabilities. Federal agencies must use these standards in all their EIT acquisitions. If a person with a disability discovers that a Federal agency has failed to comply with section 508, he or she can file an administrative complaint or a civil law suit. Complaints and lawsuits can only be filed against products that are procured. The complaint process is the same as that used for section 504. Individuals may also file a civil action against an agency.

Race, Color, and National Origin Discrimination

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits discrimination against people due to their race, color, or national origin in the conduct of programs that receive Federal financial assistance. The Commerce implementing regulation is 15 C.F.R. Part 8, Nondiscrimination in Federally-Assisted Programs of the Department of Commerce--Effectuation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Age Discrimination

  • The Age Discrimination Act. This statute makes it illegal to discriminate against people due to their age in the conduct of programs that receive Federal financial assistance. The Commerce implementing regulation is 15 C.F.R. Part 20, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Age in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.

Sex Discrimination

  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as amended. This statute makes it illegal to discriminate against people due to their sex in the conduct of educational programs that receive Federal financial assistance.

How to File a Complaint

  • Complaints about race, color, national origin, age, sex, or disability discrimination involving recipients of Federal financial assistance from the Department of Commerce and its Bureaus: File your complaint with the Director, Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Commerce, Room 6056, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20230. OCR staff are available to provide assistance with filing complaints by calling 202-482-0625.
  • Complaints about disability discrimination in programs conducted by the Commerce Department and its Bureaus: File your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer of the Bureau conducting the program or the Director, Office of Civil Rights, at the above address. OCR staff are available to provide assistance with filing complaints by calling 202-482-0625. 

 To learn more about DOC’s External Program, visit OCR’s External Compliance Program page.