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Filing a Civil Rights Complaint

Are You Experiencing Discrimination?

Filing a Civil Rights Claim

This page is designed to provide information to those seeking assistance with filing civil rights claims related to protected class discrimination. Protected class discrimination refers to discrimination based on age, color, disability, gender identity, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. If you are experiencing any kind of protected class discrimination, you have options for filing a complaint. In some cases you can file a complaint with multiple agencies at once.

Questions about filing discrimination complaints may be directed to:

  • For complaints related to age, color, the CROWN Act, disability, national origin, race, or religion, contact Winston Cornwall at 503-947-5675 or winston.cornwall@ode.oregon.gov.
  • For complaints related to gender identity, marital status, sex, and sexual orientation, contact Kate Hildebrandt at 503-551-5713 or katherine.hildebrandt@ode.oregon.gov.

File a complaint with your school or district.

All public and charter schools/districts in Oregon are required to have discrimination policies and procedures that cover discrimination based on age, color, disability, gender identity, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation (ORS 659.850). The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and other characteristics related to race, color, or national origin.

Any school that receives federal funds (including all K-12 public and charter schools) is subject to federal civil rights laws and must follow federal compliance mandates to respond to discrimination based on age, color, disbaility, national origin, race, and sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity).

To a file a complaint of discrimination with your school or district:

  • Contact any school official to make a report either verbally or in writing (including email), such as a principal, district official, or other staff member you trust. Let them know you want to make a discrimination complaint. 
  • Some schools provide discrimination complaint forms, which you can find on the school or district website. These forms may be used to submit a complaint in person or electronically.

If you are unable to find your district’s discrimination policy, or aren’t sure how to file a complaint with your distrist, you can:

  • Contact a school official such as a principal or district official and ask them how to submit a discrimination complaint, or
  • Contact ODE and ask for support. For complaints related to age, color, the CROWN Act, disability, national origin, race, or religion, contact Winston Cornwall at 503-947-5675. For complaints related to gender identity, marital status, sex, and sexual orientation, contact Kate Hildebrandt at 503-551-5713.

File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

Discrimination based on age, color, disability, national origin, race, and sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity) can be reported to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rightswith or without first filing a complaint with your school or district.The following OCR web pages will help you file a complaint:

Complaints must generally be filed within 180 days of the discrimination, but that requirement may be waived; if you are filing a complaint after 180 days, you may be asked to show good cause as to why the filing was delayed. If you have filed a complaint with your school or district, you can file a complaint with OCR up to 60 days after the conclusion of your school/district’s grievance process.

Appeal a complaint to the Oregon Department of Education.

The Oregon Department of Education can accept protected class discrimination complaints on appeal, which means you need to have first filed with your school/district. Appeals are subject to specific timelines outlined in OAR 581-002-0005; generally this means that you can submit a discrimination appeal to ODE once you have met one of the following qualifications:

  • You have exhausted the district’s complaint process (by submitting your complaint to the district and appealing the result up to the final level of appeal outlined in the district’s policies and procedures), OR
  • In a complaint process with more than one step (i.e., a process that has an appeal option at the school or district level), the district does not provide you a written decision regarding your complaint within 30 days at any one step of the process, OR
  • The district does not issue a final response within 90 days of the initial filing of the complaint, regardless of how many steps are in the district’s process.

The ODE Complaints and Appeals webpage has more information and an electronic form you can use to file a complaint. Please contact Kate Hildebrandt (katherine.hildebrant@ode.oregon.gov) or Winston Cornwall (winston.cornwall@ode.oregon.gov) with any questions.

Other Complaint Processes

The Oregon Department of Education can also assist with processing complaints related to child nutrition civil rights. Discrimination complaints regarding the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service Program and USDA Food Distribution Program may also be made directly to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To file a complaint with ODE regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), email Special Education Legal Specialist Mike Franklin (mike.franklin@ode.oregon.gov).

Reports of sexual abuse may be made to the Oregon Department of Human Services or to law enforcement. Oregon law also prohibits any sexual conduct between K-12 students and school employees, contractors, agents, or volunteers. Learn more about reporting sexual conduct.

School employees who experience discrimination at work based on age, color, disability, gender identity, marital or family status, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation may also file a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI).

The Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) can provide resources to Oregon higher education students experiencing discrimination, including students at public schools, private schools, community colleges, and trade schools.

Complaints about a licensed Oregon educator may be made to the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.

Individuals experiencing discrimination from a school/district may also consider private legal action. Individuals should contact an attorney to learn more about their legal options.

Frequently Asked Questions

What information should I include when I file a complaint?

Reports of discrimination may be submitted verbally or in writing (including electronically). Some processes may use a form and request specific information. If no form is provided, or as applicable when filling out the form, include as much of the following information as you can:

  • Name & contact information of the person filing
  • Name and contact information of the person discriminated against (if not the person filing the complaint, such as the student)
  • Name of the school or district where the incident(s) took place.
  • The basis of your complaint (which protected class - race, disability, sexual orientation, etc)
  • Describe each incident. As much as possible, include for each incident:
    • The date(s) and location(s) where the discriminatory act occurred
    • The name(s) of each person(s) involved
    • Why you believe the incident constituted discrimination
    • The name(s) of any person(s) who was present and witnessed the acts of discrimination
  • The most recent date you were discriminated against
  • If applicable, what action(s) you would like to see taken to correct the harm done to the person(s) who experienced discrimination
  • Sign & date the report either in writing or electronically

If you don’t have all of the above information, submit what you know at the time.

You should keep a copy of your submission for your records. If you submit a report verbally, it suggested that you keep records of the following information:

  • Who you spoke to.
  • What day and time you spoke to them
  • A summary of the conversation
  • Anything the person told you in response
  • If possible, consider sending a follow-up email confirming that you reported the discrimintation.

Can I file multiple complaints at the same time?

For some discrimination complaint processes, yes, you can file the same complaint with multiple agencies at once. For example, you can file a complaint with ODE and with the U.S. Department of Education at the same time. You can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and with your school district at the same time.

For the ODE discrimination complaint process, you must have first filed a complaint with your district before you can file with ODE. Oregon’s laws require that the district has the first chance to respond to a complaint (ODE’s Complaint and Appeals resource page and OAR 581-002-0005 has more information about specific waiting periods).

How long does the complaint process take?

Some complaint processes are subject to specific timelines. For example, your district’s discrimination policy may indicate a maximum timeline in which you should receive a decision - this may be 10 days, 30 days, or more, depending on your district’s policies and the specific steps of the process you are in. You should contact the specific agency or organization (your school district, OCR, ODE, or someone else) to discuss their timelines.

ODE’s discrimination appeals processes are subject to the timelines listed in OAR 581-002-0001 through 0023. ODE may extend these timelines for good cause. Complex discrimination cases may take longer to process and investigate.

Do I need a lawyer in order to file a complaint?

No, you are not required to be represented by a lawyer in order to file a civil rights complaint with your district, ODE, or OCR.

Individuals may wish to consult with a lawyer about their legal options both within and outside these processes. If you retain legal counsel, they may be able to help you with the filing process.