What is Discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently than another person who is similarly situated primarily because that first person is a member of a "protected class."

Laws regarding Civil Rights encompass a wide variety of issues that focus on the freedoms and rights of individuals. The enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was important legislation that led to a series of laws designed to protect and preserve individual rights in the United States.

How many kinds of Discrimination are there?

There are many different types of discrimination-employment, housing, credit-that occurs against different types of people. Not all discrimination is legally prohibited. Discrimination statues prohibit discrimination against individuals who are members of a "protected class." Examples of protected classes include, but are not limited to, nationality, race, religion, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. An individual who is denied employment or advancement in his or her employment due to their sex or race may bring a legal action against the employer based on Title VII.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), certain public facilities and employers are directed to provide individuals with disabilities with reasonable accommodations. The purpose of the Act is to provide qualified individuals with a reasonable accommodation for their disability so that they are able to perform the essential functions of their jobs and have equal opportunities for participation and achievement.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals from being discriminated against by employers due to their age. If an employer is charged with violating the ADEA, the employer must provide some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for rejection of the employee or applicant.

In addition to the ADA and ADEA, there are many laws in place to ensure the rights of employees. The Family & Medical Leave Act gives the employees of certain employers the right to take a leave of absence for serious health conditions, to take care of an immediate family member, or to be with a newborn or adopted child. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, employers are prohibited from terminating employees in order to deny them employee benefits.

Who can be held responsible for discriminating against me?

Your employer, your supervisor, or your co-worker can be held responsible for discriminating against you. A landlord or potential landlord can be held responsible for refusing to provide you certain accommodations, or for refusing to rent you an apartment. A restaurant, bar, or hotel owner or worker can also be held liable for discrimination if he or she treats you unfairly solely because you are a member of a protected class. Store owners, lawyers, accountants, doctors-the list of individuals and entities that can be held responsible for discrimination is endless. If you have been damaged because you were treated differently by a person or entity solely due to your disability, or your gender, or your membership in any of the classes protected by statute, you may be the victim of discrimination.

How do I file a lawsuit?

Most states require that any action for discrimination be started at the administrative level before you have a right to institute the action in a court of law. Contact an attorney or your state's Department of Human Rights.

Should I hire an attorney?

There is no requirement that you have an attorney at any time in a discrimination suit. You always have the absolute right to represent yourself. However, legal cases based on Civil Rights may involve a wide variety of factual circumstances including police misconduct, prisoners' rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, human rights, and sex discrimination. It is in your best interest to seek legal counsel.

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