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Civil Rights

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"Civil rights" refers to the concept of free and equal citizenship, including political, personal and economic rights. Civil rights laws protect individuals from being denied employment, promotions, voting rights, financial services and many other important facets of everyday life based on race, sex, color, disability, religion or national origin. Much debate continues regarding rights related to sexual orientation and other areas.

Civil rights attorneys can help those individuals who have suffered due to violation of their civil rights. In some cases, this help may come in the form of compensation for lost wages and damages, or reinstatement of a promotion or position.

The Concept of Discrimination

Civil rights violations often involve some form of discrimination. Discrimination is the differential treatment of one of more persons based on real or perceived differences. In order for discrimination to take place, this treatment must be objectionable or unfavorable in some way. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a civil rights violation, a civil rights attorney can help you determine if you are entitled to compensation.

Types of Discrimination

Below is a list of some of the most common forms of discrimination.

Race discrimination. Several legislative acts, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, protect individuals from racial discrimination.

Gender discrimination. Also known as sex-based discrimination, gender discrimination includes sexual harassment and pregnancy-based discrimination. Various federal laws protect individuals from these and other forms of gender discrimination.

Age discrimination. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, people who are 40 or older are protected from employment discrimination that is based on age.

Disability discrimination. The United States, Canada and the European Union have all enacted civil rights legislation to guarantee equal rights for their disabled citizens. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits state and local governments, employers and other organizations from discriminating against Americans with disabilities.

Employment discrimination. Discrimination in employment usually falls under one of the other categories listed here, such as age, gender or race discrimination.

Reverse discrimination. The term "reverse discrimination" is usually used to describe discrimination against white males and other groups that may have benefited in the past from discrimination toward other groups. Civil rights legislation protects all racial and social groups from discrimination, including those who may be victims of reverse discrimination. Opponents of affirmative action programs argue that these programs are a form of reverse discrimination.

Religious discrimination. As with other forms of discrimination, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on religion.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some jurisdictions have civil rights laws that cover sexual orientation, but this is by no means the norm. In fact, some states have attempted to pass laws that prohibit local governments from passing civil rights laws to protect homosexuals.

Harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as "unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and/or age." Harassment is illegal when it becomes a condition of employment or creates an uncomfortable work environment.

Sexual harassment. Although not a form of discrimination, sexual harassment is a common violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment refers to unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other physical and verbal behavior of a sexual nature.

If you feel that you or someone you know has been a victim of unlawful discrimination or harassment, contact a qualified civil rights attorney today.

Civil Rights Laws

Legislative acts such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act make it unlawful for employers, state and local governments and other organizations to discriminate against individuals and/or groups.

Over the past century and a half, numerous acts pertaining to civil rights have been passed, including:

The 13th Amendment (1865) abolishes slavery but does not guarantee equality.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 gives all persons the right to "make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of laws."

The 14th Amendment (1868) gives citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States and forbids states from depriving anyone of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The Civil Rights Act of 1871 prohibits discrimination under the guise of state or local law.

The 19th Amendment (1920) gives women the right to vote.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 forbids employers from engaging in pay differentiation based on the sex of the employee.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits public access discrimination, eventually leading to desegregation in schools. It also prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin or religion.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals over 40 from employment discrimination that is based on age.

The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 mandates that all buildings financed with federal funds be accessible to the disabled.

The Rehabilitation Act (1973) prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability.

The Air Carriers Access Act of 1989 mandates that terminals owned or operated by air carriers be built to provide disabled access.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability. Also mandates disabled access in many public areas and businesses.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was created "to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to strengthen and improve federal civil rights laws, to provide for damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination, to clarify provisions regarding disparate impact actions, and for other purposes."

Did You Know?

In the United States, the term "civil rights" is inextricably linked to the plight of American blacks and their struggle for equality in the 1950s and 1960s. More generally, the term refers to the concept of free and equal citizenship, including political, personal and economic rights.