State and federal civil rights laws prohibit government entities and private parties from discriminating against people based on race, sex, age, disability, national origin, religion, or certain other characteristics. From sexual harassment to racial discrimination, civil rights violations can take many forms, but they all have one thing in common: fighting for your rights can be difficult and time-consuming. If you believe you have been the victim of a civil rights violation, you most likely have questions about your situation and your options. Further, if you believe you have been the victim of a civil rights violation, you most likely have the option of filing a lawsuit against those responsible for any harm suffered as a result.
Civil rights violations can happen in a variety of ways and the following are some examples of violations that are commonly involved in these types of legal claims:
• Employment discrimination
• Housing discrimination
• Government discrimination
• Police brutality / Misconduct
• False arrest
• Wrongful conviction
Was a “Protected Right” Violated?
The first question you should consider is whether a “protected right” has been violated. You may feel that your rights have been violated, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that your civil rights were violated. Only certain rights are protected under civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. Some apparent “rights violations” are in fact perfectly legal and cannot form the basis for a civil rights case.
If a Protected Right Was Violated
If you believe that a protected right was violated, you likely have a number of options available to you including resolving the matter through informal negotiations, filing a claim with the government, and filing a private lawsuit in civil court.
Filing a Government Complaint is Mandatory in Some Cases
For certain types of discrimination and civil rights violation allegations, you MUST file a complaint with the relevant government agency before you file any private lawsuit in court, and these agencies set strict time limits for filing the complaint. For example, for allegations of almost all types of employment discrimination, the charging party (i.e. an employee alleging discrimination) must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing any private lawsuit, and must do so within 180 days of the alleged offense.
Charge Filing and Notice of Right-to-Sue Requirements
If you plan to file a lawsuit under federal law alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information. or retaliation, you first have to file a charge with the EEOC.
You will receive a Notice of Right to Sue at the time the EEOC closes its investigation. You may also request a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC office investigating your charge if you wish to file a lawsuit in court before the investigation is completed. This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in federal or state court.
You Have 90 Days to File A Lawsuit in Court
Once you receive a Notice of Right to Sue, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days. This deadline is set by law. If you don’t file in time, you may be prevented from going forward with your lawsuit.
Exceptions When Filing a Lawsuit
Age Discrimination Lawsuits (ADEA)
If you plan to file an age discrimination lawsuit, you must have filed a charge, but you don’t need a Notice of Right to Sue to file a lawsuit in court. You can file a lawsuit in court any time after 60 days have passed from the day you filed your charge (but no later than 90 days after you receive notice that our investigation is concluded).
Equal Pay Lawsuits (EPA)
If you plan to file a lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, you don’t have to file a charge or obtain a Notice of Right to Sue before filing. Rather, you can go directly to court, provided you file your suit within two years from the day the pay discrimination took place (3 years if the discrimination was willful).
Title VII also makes it illegal to discriminate based on sex in the payment of wages and benefits. If you have an Equal Pay Act claim, there may be advantages to also filing under Title VII. To file a Title VII lawsuit in court, you must have filed a charge with EEOC and received a Notice of Right to Sue.
Filing a Lawsuit Before the Investigation is Completed
If you want to file a lawsuit before we have finished our investigation, you can request a Notice of Right to Sue.
In most cases, the EEOC can file a lawsuit to enforce the law only after it investigates and makes a finding that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred and is unable to resolve the matter through a process called “conciliation.” The EEOC has discretion which charges to litigate if conciliation efforts are unsuccessful, and ultimately litigates a small percentage of all charges filed. When deciding whether to file a lawsuit, the EEOC considers factors such as the strength of the evidence, the issues in the case, and the wider impact the lawsuit could have on the EEOC’s efforts to combat workplace discrimination. Congress also gave individuals the right to file a lawsuit in court.
Protect Your Civil Rights with Legal Help
If you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation, and are contemplating filing a claim with the government, the best place to start is to speak with an experienced civil rights attorney. Important decisions related to your case can be complicated – including which laws apply, whether government enforcement is possible, and if so, what agency to contact. A civil rights attorney will evaluate all aspects of your case and explain all options available to you, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.