Civil Rights Protections in NIH-Supported Research, Programs, Conferences and Other Activities

Notice Number: NOT-OD-15-152

Key Dates
Release Date:   September 8, 2015

Related Announcements
None    

Issued by
National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Purpose

NIH’s ability to help ensure that the nation remains a global leader in scientific discovery and innovation is dependent upon a pool of highly talented scientists from diverse backgrounds who will help to further NIH's mission.  See, Notice of NIH's Interest in Diversity, NOT-OD-15-053.  It is expected that grantees eliminate barriers and provide equal access to the opportunity to participate in NIH supported research, programs, conferences and other activities.

The purpose of this Notice is to make all stakeholders aware of the Federal civil rights laws, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations, and policies that apply to all NIH funded activities.  The Notice also provides contacts for additional information.

Background

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) invests nearly $30.1 billion annually in medical research for the American people.  This funding supports basic and clinical research, research training and career development programs, fellowships and conferences, among other activities.  As the steward of this investment, it is critical to reaffirm the requirement that grantee institutions, PIs and others responsible for the administration of these funded activities identify and eliminate barriers to participation in order to provide a non-discriminatory research and research-related environment.

Before NIH makes a grant award, the applicant organization must certify that a one-time Assurance of Compliance (Form HHS 690) has been filed with the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  Domestic organizations that receive funding from recipients rather than directly from NIH (including consortium participants and contractors under grants) are required to abide by the Assurance, and to file an HHS 690.  The Assurance also binds program officials, including PD/PIs, key personnel and others during the period for which the assistance is provided.  By filing the form, the applicant organization agrees to comply with civil rights laws, and acknowledges that compliance constitutes a condition of continued receipt of Federal financial assistance.      

Overview of Federal Civil Rights Laws
Federal civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, and age in all programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance, and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities conducted by colleges and universities.  These protections apply in all settings where research, educational programs, conferences, and other activities are supported by NIH, and apply to all mechanisms of support (i.e., grant awards, contracts and cooperative agreements).  The civil rights laws protect NIH-supported investigators, students, fellows, postdocs, participants in research, and other individuals involved in activities supported by NIH.

NIH recognizes that research is conducted to answer scientific questions and advance population health through the advancement of knowledge.  Research projects are often limited in scope for many reasons, such as the principal investigator’s scientific interest, funding limitations, recruitment requirements and other non-discriminatory considerations.  Thus, criteria in research protocols that target or exclude certain populations are warranted where nondiscriminatory justifications establish that such criteria are appropriate with respect to the health of the subjects, the scientific study design, or the purpose of the research.  It is not anticipated that civil rights protections should alter the fundamental manner in which research projects are designed, conducted, or funded. 

Civil Rights Laws, Regulations and Applicable NIH Policies
Below are the federal civil rights statutes that apply to NIH supported activities.  We provide a link to each statute and the implementing regulations (which specify the requirements of all recipients of federal financial assistance from HHS) and the relevant part of the NIHGPS (see generally, Section 4.1.2, Civil Rights Protections).  It should be noted that not all forms of discrimination are protected under Federal law.  As Federal civil rights protections are expanded, this Notice will be revised.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Race, Color or National Origin
NIH GPS Section 4.1.2.1

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42 USC § 2000d) provides that 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 otherwise subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance.  The requirements for all recipients of Federal financial assistance from HHS are found at 45 CFR 80

The regulations indicate that public funds should not be spent in any way which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial, color or national origin discrimination.  The regulations apply to admissions, recruitment, financial aid, access to programs, mentoring, assignment to programs, grading, and employment, if it affects those who are intended to benefit from the Federal funds.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Disability
NIH GPS Section 4.1.2.3

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 USC §794) provides that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall, solely by reason of the physical or mental impairment, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. The requirements for all recipients of Federal financial assistance from HHS are found at 45 CFR 84

These requirements pertain to the provision of benefits or services as well as to employment.  A person is considered to have a disability if: (1) he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, caring for oneself, learning, or concentrating); (2) has a record of having such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment class.  See, 45 CFR 84.3.  The recipient should provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations to students and employees with disabilities.  In most cases, documentation of the disability and the need for the requested accommodation is required.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Sex
NIH GPS Section 4.1.2.2

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as amended (20 USC § 1681) provides that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. The requirements for all recipients of Federal financial assistance from HHS are found at 45 CFR 86

The regulations apply to selection, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, and employment in educational programs or activities supported by the NIH.  It protects male and female students, trainees, investigators, fellows, postdocs, and participants in educational programs or activities from discrimination, and unlawful sexual harassment, sexual violence, and sexual assault.

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975
Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Age
NIH GPS Section 4.1.2.4

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended (42 USC § 6101) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.  The requirements for all recipients of Federal financial assistance from HHS are found at 45 CFR 90.  

The Act applies to persons of all ages, but it does not apply to any age distinction "established under authority of any law" which provides benefits or establishes criteria for participation on the basis age or in age related terms.  The Act excludes most employment practices from its coverage.

NIH-Supported Conferences and Scientific Meetings
The NIH recognizes the value of supporting high quality scientific conferences and meetings relevant to its mission and to public health.   These conferences are enhanced when they welcome participants and presenters from all backgrounds, and when barriers to participation are eliminated.  Therefore, a critical component of the application for NIH conference support is documentation of representation of women, racial/ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and other individuals who are underrepresented in science in the planning and implementation of, and participation in the proposed conference. See, Guidelines for Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in NIH-Supported Conference Grants Policy, NOT-OD-03-066

Consistent with Federal civil rights laws, it is expected that organizers of NIH-supported conferences and scientific meetings take steps to maintain a safe and respectful environment for all attendees by providing an environment free from discrimination and harassment, sexual or otherwise. 

Civil Rights Enforcement
The Civil Rights Division (CRD) in the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) promotes and ensures equal access to, and the opportunity to participate in programs funded by HHS. CRD carries out this mission by enforcing Federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age and sex in programs and activities that receive financial assistance from HHS.  OCR ensures compliance by investigating complaints, conducting compliance reviews, providing technical assistance, and conducting outreach nationwide.  For more information, see OCR and civil rights enforcement.

Individuals with questions, concerns or complaints related to any of the civil rights laws are encouraged to contact OCR.  OCR has regional offices which enforce the regulations in designated states and territories.  The addresses and telephone numbers of the OCR regional offices can be found on the OCR contacts webpage. 

In addition, recipient institutions or organizations may have a designated official who is responsible for assisting individuals with civil rights concerns or questions.  Some institutions also provide opportunities for mediation.  Filing a complaint with the institution is not a prerequisite to filing a complaint of discrimination with OCR, and seeking assistance from the institution in no way precludes filing these complaints.  NIH staff is also available to respond to inquiries regarding this Notice.

Inquiries

Please direct all inquiries to:

Lisa Evans, JD
Scientific Workforce Diversity Officer
Office of Extramural Programs (OEP)
Office of Extramural Research (OER)
Email: evansl@od.nih.gov

Patricia Valdez, PhD
NIH Extramural Research Integrity Officer
Office of Extramural Programs (OEP)
Office of Extramural Research (OER)
Email: NIHResearchIntegrity@mail.nih.gov