Civil rights law is the practice area of attorneys who advise individuals, businesses, and governmental entities about legal matters touching upon civil rights. Civil rights laws are varied, complex, and constantly evolving. Civil rights laws cover the diverse assortment of rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed every United States citizen and resident by federal, state, and local laws and constitutions. For instance, citizens and residents have freedoms associated with their speech, assembly, association, and the right to practice a religion of their choice; to their life, liberty, and personal privacy; and to equal access to a public education, to the courts, to public facilities, services, and housing; equal and fair treatment by law enforcement and the courts; as well as the right to vote. The various civil rights include not only freedoms, but also the right to be free from discrimination in the availability and exercise of those freedoms.
“Discrimination” results when an individual’s, group’s, or a business or governmental entity’s preference or prejudice fosters conduct or a practice that obstructs or hinders another’s equal access or exercise of guaranteed civil rights or freedoms. Obviously, not every infringement of another’s civil rights or freedom amounts to illegal discrimination. The civil rights laws make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of one’s membership in a protected class. One may not discriminate or adversely impact another on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, disability, or national origin. As a rule of thumb, discrimination against a protected class of citizens that interferes with the exercise of voting rights, the right to assemble, freedom of speech, religion, or association or with equal opportunities to education or housing brings civil rights laws into play.
Despite the best efforts of individuals, businesses, and governmental entities to comply with the civil rights laws, lawsuits or administrative charges occur. Such charges and lawsuits can have significant consequences.
Neema Bell, Partner