Rights and Responsibilities: Civil Rights Complaints Processing

In order to comply with Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) requirements concerning SNAP civil rights complaints, the following information should be presented to all DHS staff involved in SNAP as part of their annual civil rights training.

When a complaint is received it is important to first determine if it is a program complaint or a discrimination complaint.  When there is an allegation of unfair or differential treatment because of a person’s race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, or political opinion/affiliation it should be considered as a discrimination complaint and the following procedures must be followed.

Any person may file a complaint alleging discrimination based on a protected class, either verbally or in writing.  The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides Form 14CR001E, Discrimination Complaint – Client or Vendor, for this purpose but DHS cannot require the use of the form as long as a written complaint provides the same information as is requested on the form.

For many years you’ve been asked to involve your supervisor in the conversation with the complainant early on to try to resolve civil rights complaints at the lowest level and to only offer the complaint form if the client still insisted on filing after speaking to the supervisor.  While well-intentioned, this process could have the unintended consequence of creating an obstacle to participation in the complaint process.

The proper procedure is as follows:

  1. Provide the complaint form to any person who indicates that they wish to file a complaint of discrimination based on a protected class.
  2. Explain that they have the right to file the complaint either with the DHS Office for Civil Rights or with the USDA’s Office of Civil Rights, or both.
  3. Inform them that they have 180 days to file the complaint from the date the alleged discrimination took place and that, if accepted for investigation; the investigation will be completed within 90 days of receipt.
  4. Advise the complainant that the complaint is confidential and is protected by the Privacy Act, won’t affect their benefits, and that DHS is prohibited from retaliating against them for filing a complaint.
  5. After the complaint form has been provided, you should then ask the complainant if they would like to talk to a supervisor to try to resolve the matter.

Verbal complaints are accepted if the complainant is unwilling or is unable to submit a written complaint. The employee receiving the verbal complaint should complete Form 14CR001E based on the information provided by the complainant, ask the complainant to sign it if they are available (but accept it even if they refuse) and then follow steps 2 through 5 above.

When a discrimination complaint is made during a telephone call, the employee asks the caller if he or she wants to file a complaint over the telephone or to have a complaint form sent.  Either way, the employee first explains the complaint process in steps 2 through 4 above.

  • When the caller wants to file the complaint over the telephone, the employee completes Form 14CR001E, signs as the person receiving the complaint on the signature line, and writes received by phone by the signature. The employee then asks the caller if he or she wants to file with the DHS Office of Civil Rights or with the United States Department of Agriculture or both.  After explaining the complaint process and completing the complaint form, the employee then asks if the caller wants to talk to a supervisor to try to resolve the issue.
  • If the caller wants the employee to send the form to the caller, the employee should confirm the caller’s mailing address and then ask if the caller wants to speak to a supervisor.

All discrimination complaints received in the local office must be forwarded to OCR within five days. If a complaint received in the local office is based on age discrimination it must be sent to the OCR immediately upon receipt as such complaints must be forwarded to the FNS Regional Office of Civil Rights within five days for referral to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington, D.C. for mediation.

In order to maintain a high level of confidentiality and to protect against possible retaliation no documents concerning a discrimination complaint are to be placed in a SNAP case, either electronic or hard copy; and case notes, either electronic or hard copy, must make no reference to “Civil Rights” or “complaint”.

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