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Filing Civil Rights Claims

It's up to aggrieved parties to assert their civil rights. Civil rights protections have come a long way since the nation's founding more than 200 years ago. Laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provide safeguards from discrimination. Still, laws only matter when they're enforced.

This article provides basic and in-depth information about filing discrimination and other civil rights claims. It discusses the importance of filing your claim with the government before initiating a lawsuit, the government's role in enforcing civil rights laws, and related information.

How to Determine Whether Your Civil Rights Have Been Violated

Just because your rights have been violated doesn't necessarily mean your civil rights were violated. Whether a protected right was violated matters for these types of claims. A protected right is a right conferred to protected classes of individuals.

Suppose you're a prison inmate violently beaten by a guard. In that case, you probably have valid civil rights claim in addition to assault and battery. That's because inmates are constitutionally protected from cruel and unusual punishment.

If you're denied access to a public swimming pool because of your skin color, your protected right to equal access, a civil right, has been violated.

But suppose you are denied access to the same public swimming pool because you refuse to shower before entering the water, regardless of your skin color. In that case, your civil rights have not been violated. Unbathed patrons of public swimming pools aren't protected.

Generally speaking, age discrimination is prohibited. You're also usually protected from discrimination on the basis of disability or on the basis of race. Civil rights protections exist for national origin discrimination and sex discrimination, including gender identity and sexual orientation.

Filing a Civil Rights Claim With the Government

Suppose you reasonably suspect that your civil rights have been violated. In that case, you can file a formal claim with the state or federal government. You can file a complaint online or through the mail. Some states offer more protections than the federal government. Make sure you explore your options before filing a civil rights complaint.

Once you, as the complainant, file your complaint form with the appropriate government agency, an investigation will begin to determine whether your claim has merit. This type of investigation is required for certain types of claims before a lawsuit may be filed. Some state agencies also file federal complaints on your behalf. This is known as "dual filing."

Different agencies are in charge of enforcing different types of civil rights violations. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees employment discrimination claims. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) handles disability discrimination complaints. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces several civil rights laws.

Each agency has its own process for handling complaints. Most offer standard forms that must be filled out and sent to the agency. For example, someone who wants to file a complaint against a landlord alleging housing discrimination in Florida would fill out a five-page questionnaire with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

Filing a Private Lawsuit

Sometimes you can file a private lawsuit against the offending party with either the state or federal court. This depends on the jurisdiction and the specifics of your case.

Remember that for certain civil rights violations, you must first file a complaint with the corresponding state or federal agency before you can file a civil complaint in court. If you have a civil rights claim and would like to file a private suit, it's often best to retain the services of a trained attorney.

Learn About Filing Civil Rights Claims

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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