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Civil Rights Laws: Statutory Overview

Civil rights are guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal laws Congress enacts for your benefit. Civil rights can also arise from federal court decisions like the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of these rights were born out of the civil rights movement. Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination in many settings. These settings include:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Lending
  • Voting

This article outlines the primary federal civil rights laws and how each applies. Many states have civil rights laws mirroring those at the national level. Your state may have laws that are like those identified here. Also, municipalities like cities and counties can enact ordinances and laws related to civil rights.

Age Discrimination Laws

Many federal laws protect you from discrimination based on age in specific settings.

Disability Discrimination Laws

The federal government has statutes to protect you from discrimination based on disability. These statutes only apply in specific settings. Click on any of the links below to learn more.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — Protects people with disabilities from discrimination in many aspects of life, including employment, education, and access to public accommodations
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — Protects the equal rights of students with disabilities. Ensures that all children with disabilities have a free, appropriate public school education available to them.
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — Protects people with disabilities from discrimination by employers and organizations receiving federal financial aid.

Employment Discrimination Laws

There are many federal laws protecting you from discrimination in the workplace. Click on any of the links below to learn more.

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964 — Civil rights legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Includes sexual orientation. Aims to protect minority groups.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991 (Intentional Employment Discrimination) — Amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to strengthen and improve federal civil rights laws. Allows damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination. Also clarifies provisions on disparate impact actions.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963 — Requires employers to pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of gender
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — Gives employees the right to take time off from work to care for a newborn (or recently adopted) child. Also allows employees to look after ill family members.
  • Older Workers' Benefit Protection Act — Clarifies the protections given to older people on employee benefit plans.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act — Prohibits employment discrimination against female workers who are (or intend to become) pregnant. Addresses discrimination in hiring, failure to promote, and wrongful termination.

Laws Against Discrimination in Housing, Building Access, and Credit

Below are various laws protecting you from discrimination in housing, access to public facilities, and credit.

  • Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 — Requires that buildings and facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds after September 1969 be accessible to and useable by people with disabilities
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) — Prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants. Protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or because an applicant receives income from a public assistance program.
  • The Fair Housing Act (FHA) — Prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing. Protects against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.

Laws Against Discrimination in Voting

The federal government has many laws to protect you from discrimination in voting. Click on any of the links below to learn more.

  • National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) — Establishes procedures to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for national office
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) — Prohibits the denial or restriction of the right to vote. Forbids discriminatory voting practices nationwide

Miscellaneous Civil Rights Laws

Below are more laws that protect your fundamental rights in specific settings. Click on any of the links to learn more.

Has Someone Violated Your Legal Rights? Talk to an Attorney

Federal civil rights laws protect you at the federal, state, and local levels. Suppose you think someone has mistreated you based on a protected characteristic. In that case, talk to an experienced attorney today to protect your human rights. See FindLaw's attorney directory to find one near you. An attorney can help you better understand your basic rights, your state laws, and how to ensure you receive equal protection of the laws. An attorney can also help you distinguish between civil liberties and civil rights.

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