NAICU Washington Update

New Civil Rights Rule Limits Mass-Filed Complaints

April 26, 2018

As part of a broader effort to streamline and update its civil rights enforcement procedures, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Education recently changed its policies to make it easier to dismiss mass-filed complaints. The new policy appears to be aimed at a limited number of individuals who repeatedly file complaints against multiple colleges and universities, particularly complaints alleging that institutional websites do not comply with disability laws that require such sites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Specifically, under its revised case processing manual, OCR now dismisses complaints that are “a continuation of a pattern of complaints previously filed with OCR by an individual or group against multiple recipient….” According to OCR, these mass-filed complaints place “an unreasonable burden on OCR’s resources.” In lieu of pursuing an investigation of such complaints, OCR may choose instead to conduct compliance reviews or provide technical assistance on issues raised by the complaint. 

In recent years, Marcie Lipsitt, a disability rights advocate from Michigan, has become well-known for her practice of reviewing the websites of colleges and universities across the country and filing multiple complaints against those she suspects of failing to comply with civil rights laws that require such websites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Other advocates and law firms have engaged in similar efforts that target institutions of higher education. However, it appears that OCR’s new procedures, which have reportedly already resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of such complaints, will reduce the volume of web accessibility claims brought against institutions of higher education in the future.
Contact: Jody Feder
Contact: Stephanie Giesecke

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