Civil Rights Law

What is Civil Rights Law?

Civil rights law deals with the protections and liberties enjoyed by the American people. These rights are designed to ensure that people are treated equally and without respect to their ethnicity, gender, or other such attributes. They also guard against overly intrusive conduct by the government. Government actors are not permitted to make decisions arbitrarily, or to deprive individuals of their lives or property without affording them due process of law. While civil rights violations give rise to a host of civil and criminal penalties for the offender, attorneys practicing in this area of the law are generally engaged in seeking financial compensation for victims.

Primary sources of civil rights law include the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (the “Bill of Rights”), as well as a number of important pieces of federal legislation passed in recent decades. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a notable example of federal law aimed at preventing discrimination. Other examples include the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Civil rights law is also based on published court decisions that interpret the meaning of legislation and help determine how the law is applied in a given situation. Finally, states have enacted their own civil rights legislation to supplement existing federal protections.

Excessive Force and Other Police Misconduct

One of the most common types of private lawsuits alleging civil rights violations results from improper conduct by law enforcement. Victims can bring claims based on excessive force or brutality, illegal searches and seizures, false arrests, malicious prosecutions, unjustified police shootings, and other abuses of power. Lawsuits against the police can be directed toward the individual officers involved in the incident, or against the entire department when the conduct is more systemic. These civil rights cases can become incredibly emotional, particularly in cases brought by surviving family members of an individual killed by the police.

As the field of DNA testing has developed, there are an increasing number of convicted individuals whose cases are being reversed based on newly discovered evidence. Law firms across the country are filing wrongful conviction lawsuits on behalf of these individuals. As should be expected, the settlements and jury awards in wrongful conviction cases are large, often reaching the seven-figure mark and beyond. After all, victims who go to prison for a crime they did not commit stand to lose their families, friends, reputations, and careers, not to mention years or even decades of freedom. Few would argue with the need for substantial compensation in such cases.

Prison Abuse Cases

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. With more than two million Americans now behind bars, the Eighth Amendment is just as relevant today as it was when it was ratified in the year 1791. The rapid growth of the U.S. prison population has led to overcrowding, and in turn, deplorable and sometimes dangerous conditions for inmates. Inmates who have suffered injury or have otherwise been harmed as a result of prison conditions may have a right to financial or injunctive relief. Short deadlines exist for initiating a prison abuse case, however, so it is important to take action quickly.

Free Speech, Women’s Rights, and More

Civil rights cases are not limited to claims against police officers and prison officials. Many constitutional rights can form the basis of a lawsuit, including the guarantees regarding speech, religion, association, due process, and equal protection under the law. Pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, and there is no reason to tolerate improper conduct related to an employee’s gender or pregnancy. A lawsuit will also be appropriate in instances where an employer retaliates against an employee for asserting any recognized civil right or informing authorities of civil rights violations at work.

Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code imposes liability on any person who, under “color of state law,” deprives another individual of his or her federal civil rights. Known as 1983 claims, lawsuits brought under this statute allow victims to sue state and municipal government officials who violate federal civil rights laws. While 1983 claims are a common method for holding local officials accountable, the doctrine of sovereign immunity may apply in certain situations. If so, an official may be completely or partially insulated from liability. Victims should therefore discuss the specifics of a 1983 claim with an attorney before moving forward.

Hiring a Civil Rights Attorney

If you feel your civil rights may have been infringed, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Furthermore, by initiating a legal action, you may help to bring about positive changes that prevent similar harm to others in your position. To find out more, contact an attorney now.


Know Your Rights!

  • Are 3D Printed Plastic Guns Legal?

    The arrival of 3D printing technology has led to some amazing new possibilities for things like replicating broken parts, creating amazing works of 3D art, and manufacturing entire items from patters found online. But, as is usually the case with any new technology, someone finds a way to use it for something sinister. Several creators invented 3D printed plastic guns and made plans available online. But, are these 3D printed plastic guns legal?

  • Are Same-Sex Couples Entitled to Share Employment Benefits?

    Traditionally, one benefit of marriage was being able to share in a spouse's employment benefits, like health, vision, and dental insurance. Unfortunately, many same-sex couples have struggled for years to receive the same level of benefits and even the right to be married. With more and more jurisdictions recognizing same-sex marriages, are employers now required to provide same-sex couples with the same level of benefits as heterosexual couples?

  • Do Inmates Have Rights? If So, What Are They?

    Obviously, going to jail or prison involves having one's rights curtailed. But, that does not mean inmates in the United States are without basic human rights. Even the most hardened criminal has basic rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

  • Do Native American Indians Have Special Rights?

    Many have wondered as they drive along the road and see signs for so-called Indian Casinos how this could be legal in a state that otherwise outlaws such forms of gambling? Others may have heard of Native Americans having their own tribal laws and police and wondered if these are separate and apart from the laws of non-Indians in the area. Do Native Americans have special rights that other American citizens do not?

  • How do I say “No” to the Police?

    You have been stopped, either in a car, in a public place, or walking down the street, and an officer asks you to do something you do not think you should have to do. This would probably be a request to search your person or vehicle. So, when an officer asks you to empty your pockets, allow a search of your car, or for some other consent to search, how do you say “no” without bringing on more suspicion and a possible arrest?

  • How Much Can You Legally Get Away With Saying to a Cop?

    What can you legally say to a cop and get away with it? Maybe an officer pulled you over on the wrong day, maybe you distrust cops, or maybe you just like living on the edge. Whatever your reasoning, you might be surprised to find out that getting a little mouthy is not technically an automatic one way trip to jail.

  • What is Affirmative Action and Why Was it Created?

    Most people have seen the effects of affirmative action in one place or another. For example, most job and school applications now ask a person's racial and ethnic background, gender, and veteran status. But what is affirmative action really, and why was it created?

  • What is the Difference Between a Human Right and a Civil Right?

    Have you ever wondered what the difference was between a human right and a civil right? Is there a difference between the two terms?

  • Where Can I Carry a Gun on a College Campus?

    Over the last decade, stories of shootings on college campuses have dotted the headlines. This has led many to call for legalizing the carrying of guns on campuses. Of course, this has also created a serious backlash against guns on campuses, leading many to ask if this is the answer or just a way to contribute to the problem. So where is it legal to carry a gun on a college campus?

  • Where is Same-Sex Marriage Legal in the United States?

    For years, gay and lesbian couples have fought for the right to have their relationships legally recognized like heterosexual couples. Unfortunately, as with most civil rights movements, the march towards equal rights for those of different sexual orientations has been a long and difficult one. Nevertheless, several states have recently taken to recognizing same-sex marriages over the last few years, opening the door to a new era of equality for these individuals.

  • Who or What Can Legally be Considered a Person

    Since the dawn of civilization, there has been an ongoing philosophical and political debate about who or what can legally be considered a person. Traditionally, this took on the debate of whether certain human minority groups should be afforded the same rights and obligations as those in power. But, the debate has shifted in recent years to one involving non-humans. So, what makes a “person,” legally speaking.

Articles About Civil Rights

  • Salaried Workers and Overtime Rights
    With a salary usually come many benefits. A salaried worker may receive paid time off, additional medical days, holidays off and other distinct advantages. This position is often associated with a position higher in the company. However, there can be some drawbacks to being a salaried worker. In some situations, employers give this status to employees in order to avoid paying more money for overtime benefits. However, doing so can be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • How Can I Get a Judgment Released?
    A Satisfaction of Judgment or Release and Satisfaction is a legal document that shows that the plaintiff has been paid all that he or she is owed, based upon the original judgment against the defendant. This legal document is important because it is not revocable; once it is signed and filed with the court, it cannot be changed. Judgment debtors are usually in a hurry to get this type of release so that the civil action stops adversely affecting their credit.
  • Yo-Yo Financing in Minnesota
    Yo-yo financing is sometimes a result of spot delivery purchases in which a buyer uses in-house financing and drives off the lot with a new vehicle before the actual deal is finalized. This potential scam occurs in Minnesota and throughout the country and leaves subprime borrowers in a vulnerable position.
  • Can I Be Fired While on Medical Leave?
    Most states and employers are at-will in nature, meaning that an employer can fire an employee for any reason so long as it is a legal reason. While some leave laws protect employees from being fired or give employees the right to take time off work, these protections are not absolute. Whether you can be fired while on medical leave depends on the type of leave that you are taking and other factors.
  • Buying a Car? Be Aware of Spot Delivery Scam
    This type of car buying scam gets its name from purchasers who are sold vehicles “on the spot.” The dealership says that the buyer has been approved for the vehicle, but he or she is later told that the financing fell through. There may be some consumer protections to help affected buyers, and there are certainly ways to avoid this common scam.
  • How The Government Can Take Your Property
    A new bill has been introduced to end forfeiture funding of the DEA’s Marijuana Suppression programs. The bill is a bipartisan effort to modify was has become a widely abused system of asset forfeiture from innocent citizens, who in many cases have not even been charged with any crimes.
  • Can I Be Fired for Missing One Day of Work?
    Most states and employers operate under an at-will system in which employers can terminate employees for any reason and employees can quit for any reason. However, employers cannot terminate employees for an illegal purpose, which may or may not occur if an employee misses one day of work. The reason for missing work and the terms of employment largely dictate whether an employee can be fired for missing one day of work.
  • Hidden Provisions at the Dealership - Is This a Case of Consumer Fraud?
    Some auto dealerships have developed a bad reputation for committing fraudulent acts or attempting to trick their customers into making purchases that include hidden provisions. Auto dealerships must comply with a number of state and federal laws pertaining to entering into sales contracts with buyers.
  • Fired for Taking Bereavement -- Any Recourse?
    Losing a friend or loved one is an awful experience, but one through which we will all suffer at one point or another. It is natural to need time following such a loss to collect one’s thoughts, prepare for the departed person’s final arrangements, and otherwise deal with the loss. Unfortunately, while we may all understand these needs on an intuitive level, there is not a legal recognition of this need in most jurisdictions. As a result, bereavement leave is often far from guaranteed.
  • What Is Your Liability If Someone Hacks Your PC and Uses Information for Criminal Purposes?
    Large-scale security breaches receive massive media attention. Whether a person can be criminally or civilly liable for another’s actions while using their equipment or connection depends on the particular circumstances involved in the case.
  • All Civil Rights Law Articles

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