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Discrimination: Know Your Civil Rights and Legal Protections

Discrimination is a pervasive issue that infringes upon the principles of equality and fairness. Understanding civil rights is crucial in fostering a society that values diversity.

Federal law safeguards individuals because it prohibits discriminatory practices. The prohibition extends to characteristics such as:

  • Skin color
  • Race
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Medical background
  • Religion
  • Genetic information

These protections shield people from prejudice based on circumstances beyond their control. They protect minorities and other protected classes from discrimination.

Some state laws go beyond the federal mandates. They aim to combat discrimination based on attributes like sexual orientation and weight.

Individuals need to be aware of the specific types of discrimination prohibited by federal law. Understanding the agencies responsible for enforcing these laws is crucial. Knowing how to file a claim is empowering for those who've experienced discrimination.

Read on to learn more about:

  • The various types of discrimination banned by federal law
  • The agencies that enforce each law
  • How to file a claim
  • In-depth information about specific scenarios involving intentional discrimination

Basics of Discrimination Law

For discrimination to trigger the protection of federal law, it must be based on an individual's:

  • Skin color
  • Race
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion

Laws prohibiting discrimination based on race are often the strongest. These laws have been on the books for the longest period. Other categories exist that may be more expansive or restrictive.

Discrimination laws can also protect someone perceived to belong to a protected group. For example, let's say an employer believes that one of their employees is homosexual. As a result, the employee does not receive a promotion at their job. This employee would likely have an actionable claim of discrimination against their employer, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Anti-Discrimination Legislation

Most bars to discrimination originate in the U.S. Code (U.S.C.) Title 42, Chapter 21, where several civil rights laws by the federal government have been collected. These laws include the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

Other significant federal laws include but are not limited to:

  • Fair Housing Act
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act

Individual states have also enacted laws to protect the civil rights of their citizens. The scope of those protected and the context in which they are protected varies from state to state.

Development of Civil Rights Laws

New legislation and the Supreme Court's interpretation of existing laws continue to expand civil rights and prohibit more types of discrimination. For example, for many years, anti-discrimination laws did not protect those in the LGBTQ+ community.

A significant turning point occurred with the Supreme Court's 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The case involved three consolidated cases. In each case, the plaintiff lost their job due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Supreme Court recognized that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by Title VII.

This groundbreaking ruling extended protection to LGBTQ+ individuals under federal anti-discrimination laws. The ruling affirms that they are entitled to the same workplace rights and protections as anyone else.

Filing a Discrimination Claim

For discrimination to be legally actionable, it must meet certain criteria.

  • It must be based on one of the protected classes outlined in the legislation. These protected classes encompass various aspects of identity.
  • The discriminatory act must occur within a context covered by the legislation.

We explore a few different types of discrimination lawsuits below.

Types of Discrimination Lawsuits

Discrimination, while pervasive, may not always lead to legal action. In certain social contexts, individuals might engage in discriminatory behavior without facing litigation. The consequences might extend to strained relationships or social repercussions instead.

Discrimination becomes legally actionable when it meets specific criteria. It should be targeted at one of the recognized protected categories like race, gender, or disability. Furthermore, the discriminatory act must occur within specific settings, such as:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Government benefits or services
  • Health care
  • Land use and zoning
  • Lending and credit
  • Public accommodations
  • Transportation
  • Voting

Understanding situations in which discrimination can occur is essential for recognizing, addressing, and eradicating unfair treatment based on protected characteristics. Some scenarios include:

Employment Discrimination

One prevalent area involves discrimination in the workplace, governed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Some examples of employment discrimination include:

  • Unequal pay
  • Sexual harassment
  • Discriminatory hiring based on age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prevents age-based employment discrimination.

Discrimination in Education

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education oversees discrimination issues in educational settings. Instances of discrimination in schools include those based on race, gender, disability, and more.

Housing Discrimination

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tackles discrimination in housing. Scenarios related to discriminatory practices in housing include redlining and refusal to rent.

Healthcare Discrimination

In the realm of healthcare, discrimination can manifest based on various factors. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees issues related to discrimination in healthcare settings. Scenarios include denial of services, unequal treatment, and so on.

Lending and Credit Discrimination

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) addresses discrimination in lending and credit. Individuals may face unfair treatment in financial transactions, including discriminatory loan practices.

Anti-Discrimination Enforcement Agencies

The enforcement of anti-discrimination laws involves several federal agencies, each responsible for overseeing specific aspects of these regulations. Here are some key agencies and information on how to file a claim:

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC handles employment-related discrimination.

Victims of workplace discrimination can file a charge with the EEOC. Charge a file online, by mail, or in person at one of the EEOC offices.

Office for Civil Rights (OCR) - Department of Education

The OCR handles discrimination in education based on sex, race, color, national origin, disability, and age.

Submit complaints related to educational discrimination to the OCR. The process involves filling out a complaint form and providing relevant details about the alleged discrimination. A complaint must be filed with OCR within 180 calendar days of the date of the discrimination event.

Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) - Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Housing-related discrimination cases are resolved through HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Individuals who believe they have experienced discrimination in housing can file a complaint with the FHEO. Submit complaints online, by mail, or through a HUD regional office.

Office for Civil Rights (OCR) - Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

This office handles discrimination claims in healthcare based on race, color, national origin, disability, age, and sex.

File complaints related to healthcare discrimination with the OCR. The process involves submitting a complaint form with details about the alleged discrimination.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

The CFPB handles discrimination in lending and credit.

Individuals who believe they have faced discrimination in lending or credit can submit a complaint to the CFPB online or by mail.

Specific procedures for filing a claim may vary by agency. Refer to the respective agency's website or contact them directly for more instructions. Seeking legal counsel can provide valuable support throughout the process.

Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice

The Civil Rights Division is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. This division enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination. It also:

  • Investigates and litigates cases related to civil rights violations
  • Addresses issues such as voting rights, employment, housing, and education
  • Collaborates with other agencies
  • Develops policies
  • Conducts public outreach to ensure equal protection under the law

It deals with discrimination claims by investigating allegations, taking legal action when necessary, and working to advance policies that promote equal justice for all. The Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division oversees these efforts.

Protect Your Civil Rights

Stand up for your rights. Have you faced discrimination on the basis or race, basis of sex, or any other protected class? If so, take proactive steps. Know that federal agencies and education programs exist to address these issues.

If you've been a victim of discrimination, consider reaching out to a lawyer. Legal counsel can provide valuable support and help you protect your rights. Talk to an attorney who specializes in discrimination issues.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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