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Education Dept. Warns Colleges Against Retaliating in Civil-Rights Complaints

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance warning schools and colleges of the sanctions they could face if they are found to have retaliated against people who file complaints with the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Seth M. Galanter, the department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Wednesday that his office had never before issued public guidance on the subject of retaliation against complainants, even though a “significant portion” of complaints filed with OCR in recent years included claims of retaliation.

“Individuals should be commended when they raise concerns about compliance with the Federal civil-rights laws, not punished for doing so,” Mr. Galanter wrote.

If the recipient of a complaint is found to have retaliated in violation of federal civil-rights laws, Mr. Galanter wrote, the department would seek voluntary commitments from an institution through a settlement agreement. Such an agreement must ensure that the victim of retaliation receives redress, and also must ensure that the institution does not engage in retaliation in the future, he added. The office could require institutions to train their employees about the ban on retaliation, to adopt new communication strategies, and to use public campaigns to assure others that the institution is complying with the law, Mr. Galanter wrote.

In the event that a complaint recipient fails to rectify problems identified by OCR, Mr. Galanter wrote, his office could begin proceedings to suspend the department’s financial support of the recipient. He added that his office could also refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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