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South Dakota Civil Rights Laws

There are few things as humiliating and degrading as discrimination. Whether it’s racial discrimination in a hotel or restaurant or sex-based discrimination on the job, the effects can devastate individuals and divide communities.  One of the best ways to fight discrimination is in the courtroom.

The various civil rights movements led to sweeping federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination across the country. Plaintiffs generally have two options: file a complaint with a government agency that enforces civil rights laws or file a civil rights lawsuit on their own initiative. Sometimes one might be required before the other can proceed. Here’s a brief summary of South Dakota law when it comes to civil rights.

State Civil Rights Laws: South Dakota

South Dakota broadly prohibits discrimination. Unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, and national origin are prohibited by statute. It’s worth remembering that nondiscrimination laws generally prohibit discrimination in certain, specific contexts. These include selling a house or renting out an apartment, hiring and firing employees, serving or accommodating guests, providing financial assistance and loans, admissions and services at educational institutions such as schools and universities. Federal and state laws are consistent in this approach. Only unlawful discrimination is prohibited – that’s why there’s often a long list of what constitutes unlawful discrimination.

Most major exceptions are straightforward. Religious educational institutions can consider religion in admissions decisions. Schools and universities can segregate by sex in athletic programs so long as the opportunities for males and females are “substantially equal” – this is why having a men’s basketball team and women’s basketball team is lawful. More controversially, housing discrimination bans don’t apply in smaller rental facilities where the owner lives – an exception meant to accommodate owners who rent our rooms or one or two living units.  Know that there are specific definitions and express exceptions out there.

The South Dakota Department of Labor’s Division of Human Rights enforces state civil rights laws. The agency receives and investigates complaints and will attempt to end unlawful discrimination where it exists. Individuals retain their right to sue, however. After a complaint is filed with the department, a person can still elect to file their own lawsuit. You should know that complaints to the department must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory action and lawsuits must be filed within one year of electing to file an individual lawsuit. These time restrictions are critical. Successful plaintiffs can recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and legal costs.

Code Sections 20-13-1 et seq.
Discrimination Prohibited Based On Race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, national origin.
Private Action Permitted? Yes.
Court-Awarded Attorneys' Fees for Successful Plaintiffs? Yes
Statute of Limitations 180 days to file complaint with agency; 1 year to file private action after electing to do so.

Related Resources for Civil Rights Laws

You can find more general information on civil rights laws and discrimination on these pages. For further advice regarding a specific case, we recommend speaking with a local civil rights attorney.

Browse South Dakota Law by Topics

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