Every citizen is entitled to certain personal rights as outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and in accordance to federal civil rights law, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Civil Rights Bill. Collectively referred to as "civil rights", these entitlements protect individuals from discrimination, inequity, and unfair treatment in all aspects of life. Civil rights can be applied to a wide variety of situations, such as discrimination of housing, discrimination of education, and discrimination of employment.
The most prominent and widely enforced civil rights include:
Medical providers and social service agencies are regulated by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). These governmental facilities protect citizens from being denied benefits, health care, or human services based on race, nationality, age, gender, religious beliefs, or physical disability.
A civil rights violation can take many forms, from rental discrimination to employer discrimination to refusal of medical care. If you suspect that your rights have been infringed upon, the first step is to determine if the incidence violated a “protected right” that is specified in the U.S. Constitution or another civil rights law.
Begin by reviewing the existing anti-discriminatory laws. If you determine that a protected right was violated, you can pursue one of the following actions:
This is the quickest and most inexpensive means of addressing a possible violation. As an example, if you feel you were unfairly terminated from your job, you may choose to hold an attorney-mediated meeting with the employer, during which you’ll draw up a contract agreement that satisfies both parties. The advantage of informal negotiations is that it eliminates the need for a long, drawn-out court case and extensive legal paperwork.
If mediation isn’t a viable option, you can file an official complaint with the local, state, or Federal government. Depending on the details of the case, this is often a prerequisite to filing a private lawsuit. After your complaint is filed, the recipient agency will decide which level of government should handle your case based on which laws are involved. The designated agency will then launch an investigation to determine if a civil right was indeed violated. In some cases, the state and Federal government will work together.
If your civil rights have been infringed upon, you may have the option to file a private lawsuit against the perpetrator. The first step is to file a complaint with the court, in which you’ll detail the sequence of events that led to the alleged violation and any subsequent damages that were incurred.
There are several questions to consider before and during the filing of a lawsuit: