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Know Your Rights

Title VI Legal Manual


Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Specifically, Title VI provides as follows:

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

42 U.S.C. § 2000d. Title VI served as the model for several subsequently promulgated statutes that prohibit discrimination on other grounds in federally assisted programs or activities, including Title IX (sex discrimination in education programs) and Section 504 (disability discrimination). See U.S. Dep’t of Transp. v. Paralyzed Veterans of Am., 477 U.S. 597, 600 n.4 (1986); Grove City Coll. v. Bell, 465 U.S. 555, 566 (1984) (Title IX was patterned after Title VI); Consol. Rail Corp. v. Darrone, 465 U.S. 624 (1984) (Section 504 patterned after Titles VI and IX).[1]  Accordingly, courts have “relied on case law interpreting Title VI as generally applicable to later statutes.” Paralyzed Veterans, 477 U.S. at 600 n.4.

The three statutes do not treat all issues identically. For example, Title VI statutorily restricts claims of employment discrimination to instances where a “primary objective” of the financial assistance is to provide employment. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-3. An employment discrimination claim against a recipient of federal financial assistance that otherwise might raise a Title VI issue must be brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., if a “primary objective” is not employment. No such restriction applies to Title IX or Section 504. See N. Haven Bd. of Educ. v. Bell, 456 U.S. 512, 530 (1982) (“[T]he legislative history thus corroborates our reading of the statutory language and verifies the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that employment discrimination comes within the prohibition of Title IX.”); Bentley v. Cleveland Cty. Bd. of Comm’rs, 41 F.3d 600 (10th Cir. 1994) (Section 504 claim alleging discriminatory termination of former employee).

Courts also have held that Title VI adopts or follows the Fourteenth Amendment’s standard of proof for intentional discrimination, see Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 412-18 (1978); and, generally, the Title VII standard of proof for disparate impact. See Guardians Ass’n v. Civil Serv. Comm’n of City of New York, 463 U.S. 582, 639 (1983); Elston v. Talladega Cty. Bd. of Educ., 997 F.2d 1394, 1405 n.11, 1407 n.14 (11th Cir. 1993) (see, infra,  Section V, ch. 1). Accordingly, cases under these constitutional and statutory provisions may shed light on the Title VI analysis in a given situation.

Finally, cases decided under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., may also be instructive regarding the disparate impact analysis under Title VI.

[1] In addition, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, uses Title VI enforcement procedures through reference to the process noted in Section 504.  42 U.S.C. § 12131.

How to file a discrimination complaint

A discrimination complaint relative to a CDFI-funded program can be filed by sending a claim letter to the contact information below:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division Federal Coordination and Compliance Section-NWB
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Title VI (1-888-848-5306)
(202)307-2678 (TDD)o

Each Federal agency that provides Federal financial assistance is responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the use of its funds.

If you believe that you or others protected by Title VI have been discriminated against, you may file a complaint with the Federal agency that provides funds for the program where you believe the discrimination is occurring. A signed, written complaint should be filed with the appropriate Federal agency, generally within 180 days of the date of the alleged discrimination. It should describe:

  • Your name, address, and telephone number. Your complaint must be signed. If you are filing on behalf of another person, include your name, address, telephone number, and your relation to that person (e.g., friend, attorney, parent, etc.)
  • The name and address of the agency, institution, or department you believe discriminated against you.
  • How, why, and when you believe you were discriminated against. Include as much background information as possible about the alleged acts of discrimination. Include names of. individuals whom you allege discriminated against you, if you know them.
  • The names of any persons, if known, that the investigating agency could contact for additional information to support or clarify your allegations.