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The Government's Role in Civil Rights Enforcement

The government plays a vital part in enforcing civil rights laws. This role is distinct from the role of law enforcement officers or law enforcement agencies. In many instances of civil rights violations and discrimination, complaints can be filed with the government at the federal or state level. A government agency will then take steps to enforce your constitutional rights.

Filing a complaint will usually trigger an investigation into your claims by a government agency. Depending on the specifics of your case, the government may take further action on your behalf. This could include ordering mandatory dispute mediation or charging the offending party in court.

In some cases, a claim must be filed with the government before a private lawsuit can be pursued. Complaints and claims must usually be filed within a certain amount of time after an alleged violation of rights.

This article discusses the role of the government in enforcing state and federal civil rights laws. The article also explains the process for filing complaints.

Federal Agencies That Enforce Civil Rights

Both federal and state agencies hear and investigate civil rights violations. This includes discrimination complaints. In most cases, neither the offender nor the victim needs to be associated with the government.

For example, a person alleging employment discrimination doesn't have to be a government employee. The mere allegation of a civil rights violation triggers the government's interest in investigating and resolving the claims.

Numerous federal government agencies investigate civil rights violations and discrimination claims. These agencies include:

The U.S. Attorney General can also institute a lawsuit in many instances. Sometimes, cases even make it to the Supreme Court.

State Agency Civil Rights Enforcement

State agencies and local governments may also investigate civil rights violations or discrimination complaints. They may work in place of a federal agency or in partnership with one.

For example, employees alleging job discrimination in California can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. As part of its standard procedure, that state agency will usually send the complaint to the EEOC at the federal level. That's what's known as a "dual filing."

Whether your complaint is handled at the federal or state level depends on your case's facts and the claims involved. What matters most is that your complaint gets filed. Agencies can engage in outreach efforts to decide where and how your case will be handled after that.

For example, a complaint for education discrimination filed with the U.S. Department of Justice may be referred to the U.S. Department of Education or other agencies. Your state's attorney general or assistant attorney general may also get involved in enforcement activities.

Filing a Government Complaint Is Mandatory in Some Cases

For certain types of discrimination and civil rights violation allegations, you must file a complaint with the relevant government agency before you file any private lawsuit in court. There are strict time limits for filing a complaint. Otherwise, the law prohibits your case.

For example, for most employment discrimination claims, the employee alleging discrimination must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing any private lawsuit. The employee must file their complaint within 180 days of the alleged offense.

Protect Your Civil Rights With Legal Help

Do you believe you've suffered a civil rights violation? Have you been discriminated against on the basis of race, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, or another protected characteristic? Are you contemplating filing a claim with the government or local law enforcement?

Nondiscrimination laws and federal civil rights statutes exist to protect you in employment, housing, voting, education, health care, and public accommodations.

Take some initiative. You don't need to tolerate discriminatory practices. Speaking with an experienced civil rights attorney is the best place to start. A civil rights attorney will be familiar with state and federal laws applicable to your claim. They also can offer technical assistance.

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