Civil Rights Protections
Under both federal and state law, civil rights protections exist to ensure that all people are treated equally under the law. State laws mirror and may even offer broader protections than the federal statutes, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination at the federal level.
Those whose civil rights have been violated may have the option of filing a complaint directly with the government or bringing a civil suit against a discriminating party to recover losses incurred because of the discrimination. An experienced civil rights attorney can obtain justice for clients whose civil rights have been violated.
Civil Rights Law
Federal laws prohibit discrimination in education, employment, housing, and voting, among other settings. The most prominent legislation in this arena is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, or religion in public establishments that are engaged in interstate commerce.
Regulations that Cover Civil Rights Violations
Civil rights go to the very foundation of the United States of America. The country was built on the notion that every individual has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, sometimes people forget that having the freedoms citizens enjoy comes with the responsibility of having to respect the rights of others.
There are also individuals who work in positions of authority such as the government who also forget those basic principles. There are several federal and state laws that regulate how people should treat others and more importantly strive to ensure that everyone in the United States enjoy the same freedoms as others. Some of those laws are as follows:
- Bill of Rights: The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are at the core of a U.S. citizen’s rights. They are designed to protect a citizen from the overreach of government.
- Constitution: The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution are among the most important amendments, as they abolish slavery, provide for equal protection under the law, and establish every person’s right to vote.
- Civil Rights Act of 1964: This federal law prohibits the discrimination of people based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
- California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): This state law prohibits employers from treating employees differently or favoring them over another based on their race, sex, and other qualities.
- Bane Act: Under this law, a lawsuit can be filed against an entity that is deliberately interfering with a person’s civil rights.
- Unruh Civil Rights Act: This is another state law that prevents businesses from deliberately or randomly discriminating against any individual who falls under the protected characteristics.
- Ralph Act: This state law allows those who are a member of a protected class to obtain additional money in punitive damages if they were a victim of what has been deemed a hate crime.
- Color of Law Violations: This federal law prohibits employees of the federal government or members of federal agencies from abusing their authority and violating a person’s civil rights.
Under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and FEHA, employers may not discriminate against applicants or employees based on a protected characteristic. California employees who have been discriminated against may either file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which will then typically file a dual complaint with the EEOC.
The prohibition against unlawful employment practices extends to all aspects of employment, including compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It is unlawful to discriminate because of the following:
- Race: Applicants or employees may not be treated unfavorably because they are either of a certain race or they have personal characteristics associated with race, such as skin color or hair texture.
- Religion: Treating a person unfavorably because of their religious beliefs or because they are married to someone of a certain religion is prohibited.
- National origin: Employers are prohibited from treating applicants or employees unfavorably because of their birthplace, accent, ethnicity, or other indicators of national origin.
- Age: Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), those 40 years of age and older may not be treated unfavorably or harassed at work because of their age.
- Sex: Sex-based discrimination is prohibited under Title VII and includes treating applicants or employees unfavorably because of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Employers may not discriminate against those with a disability, history of disability, or non-transitory physical or mental impairments. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a reasonable accommodation must be provided for an employee or job applicant unless doing so would constitute an undue hardship for the employer.
Filing an Employment Discrimination Case in California
In California, a person who believes that they have been the victim of discrimination has two options to file a case. They can file the case at the state level; if the person is not comfortable with that, they can proceed with a federal option. They can file their case with California’s administrative agency, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or the federal administrative agency, the EEOC. The two agencies have a work-share agreement, meaning that they each share information about ongoing cases. It is not necessary to file a case with both agencies, as they work together.
There are some firms that do fall under state jurisdiction that are not under federal jurisdiction. California’s anti-discrimination statute covers firms with five to 14 employees. It also covers companies with one or more employees for harassment claims. Federal law only covers companies with 15 or more companies and at least 20 or more employees for age discrimination cases.
Before filing a case with the state, a person must first reach out to the DFEH headquarters through their toll-free hotline before the person can schedule an in-person interview in one of the district offices.
The EEOC has become more user-friendly, providing an online service for those who have filed a discrimination case to follow the progress of their case. The portal makes it easier for the person to submit and trade documents. It is also an opportunity for those who are charged in a lawsuit to also see the status of the case. The system has been online since 2016, so all cases filed after that are on this system, which is the Digital Charge System.
When Do Victims Need to File a Claim?
A person who believes that they were the victim of workplace discrimination does not have a long period to file their case. If they wish to file a case with the DFEH, the person has one year from the day when the incident took place. For those who wish to file a claim with the EEOC, they have 300 days.
Given that there might be other legal questions surrounding the case, a person should not wait until the deadline is close to expiring before filing their case. They should file it as soon as possible.
The Federal Process: Filing a Case with the EEOC
Once a person files their case with the EEOC, they will receive a charge number associated with it and the agency will send a notice to the employer informing them that the case has been filed. The employer will receive that notice within 10 days of the filing. From that point, the EEOC will then do one of three things:
- Ask the two parties to work out their differences through mediation.
- Require the employer to respond to the charge in writing.
- Dismiss the case outright if the time limit expired or the EEOC determines that it does not have jurisdiction.
If the EEOC decides to pursue the case, it will open an investigation. The investigation will entail speaking to witnesses and gathering evidence. At the end of the investigation, the agency will make its determination. If it decides that discrimination did not occur, it will publish a note to the claimant, which is a Notice of Right to Sue. This gives the person permission to file their claim in a court of law.
If the EEOC determines that discrimination did occur, it will attempt to seek a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case may then get referred to the EEOC’s legal staff or the Justice Department, depending on the severity of the case. The EEOC may then chose to file a lawsuit; if not, it will then issue a Notice of Right to Sue to the claimant.
The time on the process can vary depending on the size of the case as well as the number of people involved. Generally, an investigation takes about six months with the medication process taking about four months.
Taking a Case to Court
Although it might seem frustrating, a person cannot file an employment discrimination lawsuit without first filing the case with either the DFEH or the EEOC. The person must first exhaust all their agency options before pursuing their legal ones.
California law places no cap on any compensatory or punitive damages, whereas there are some restrictions at the federal level. For that reason, many attorneys choose to file their client’s case in state court and allege state law violations. There are other reasons that make state court more attractive. California law is more favorable when it comes to recoverable damages, attorney’s fees, burdens of proof, and special employer defenses.
At the federal level, a person must first receive the Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC before they move forward on a case. The person has 90 days for the issuance of that statement to file their case in court. Otherwise, they will not be successful in court.
Filing a Lawsuit under Section 1983
Section 1983 of the United States code gives citizens the right to sue a government employee for civil rights violations. Generally, states are immune from lawsuits, but government employees can be targets. The subjects of these lawsuits can include those who work for a local or state government and the government for the District of Columbia. A person can also sue someone who conspires with the government workers and some government entities.
When a victim sues at the local level, the context of the lawsuit gets a little complicated. Rather than suing an individual who violated a person’s rights, the person can sue over a local policy that they claim violated their civil rights.
Filing a Lawsuit Against Federal Government Employees
In 1971, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents that citizens could also sue those individuals who work for the federal government. The case allowed for a lawsuit against individuals, but not the agency themselves. In another restriction to a Bivens case, a person can sue only over a constitutional violation and not violations of federal statutes.
Civil Rights Protected by the U.S. Constitution
In addition to state law and federal statutes, such as Title VII, civil rights are also protected by the U.S. Constitution. Those who were deprived of their rights, privileges, or immunities under federal law or the U.S. Constitution may be able to file a Section 1983 claim against a wrongdoer who was acting under the color of the law. Some constitutionally protected civil rights include the following:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of the press
- Right to due process
- Right to peaceful assembly
Qualified Immunity and Police Misconduct
Every day, police officers put their lives on the line to serve and protect the citizens of their community. They do what is necessary keep the streets safe. Unfortunately, a few bad officers can soil that reputation and take advantage of their authority over the general population and perform outside of their code of conduct.
Police misconduct is one of the most common types of claims brought under Section 1983. Some types of abuse of power claims include the following:
Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, police officers and other government officials are generally afforded qualified immunity from lawsuits. Therefore, if they were acting in their official capacity, government actors may not be sued for discretionary actions, unless it can be shown that their actions violated a clearly established federal law or constitutional right.
Color of Law Violations
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports that the most common civil rights complaints pertain to color of law violations and racial violence. Under federal law, persons acting under the color of the law, including federal, state, and local officials, may not abuse their authority by willfully depriving a person of a legally protected right or privilege. The law encompasses acts done within the agent’s lawful authority, and acts done outside that legal authority while the agent was pretending to act in accordance with their official duties.
When a judge is determining if a police officer committed a color of law violation, there are several factors the judge will consider. Some of those considerations are as follows:
- If the police officer was on duty.
- If the officer was wearing a police uniform.
- If the officer used police equipment such as their squad car or handcuffs.
- If the police office flashed a badge or claimed to be an officer.
- If the officer was in the process carrying out an arrest.
Compensation that Can Be Expected in a 1983 Claim
When a person is seeking a case under Section 1983, the main types of damages victims can receive are monetary damages, which is financial compensation for the civil rights violations. They can also obtain injustice relief, also known as prospective relief. In addition, the court can award monetary damages for civil rights violations along with any punitive damages associated with the actions. The goal of the compensation is to compensate the victim for the following:
- Medical bills
- Reduced earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of liberty from the civil rights violation
The purpose of the punitive damages is to punish a person for violating someone’s civil rights. However, punitive damages cannot be recovered from a local municipality.
Most state officials enjoy absolute immunity when it comes to monetary damages under Section 1983. Those that enjoy such protections include individuals such as prosecutors, judges, and state lawmakers. The immunity applies only to their official conduct in those positions.
Defending Against 1983 Claims
There are opportunities for those who are sued under Section 1983 to provide a positive defense of their actions. They can elect to utilize a qualified immunity defense. Under this theory, the accused is claiming that they cannot be held responsible. They can argue that they were acting in good faith. This defense will work under the following conditions:
- The accused was not violating the person’s civil rights.
- Those rights were so clearly established that a reasonable officer would believe that their conduct was constitutional.
Officials at the municipal level do not enjoy such a protection from the violation. They can be held responsible even if they did not know that they were violating a person’s civil rights.
Finally, a 1983 lawsuit can bring prospective relief. It means that a court can impose an injunction on the violation, meaning that a similar type of action could not happen again.
Plaintiffs may be able to overcome the qualified immunity defense by providing compelling evidence that the officer’s actions were unreasonable and excessive. These types of cases are notoriously complex; therefore, it is in a person’s best interests to contact a local, qualified attorney as soon as possible for assistance with their case.
Although it might get frustrating for victims of civil rights violations that there are several defenses that protect people, the lawsuits are extremely important to the nation and its people. Government must be held accountable when it fails to protect its citizens as the Constitution promised.
Time Frame for a 1983 Lawsuit
There is generally no timeframe of when a person can file a 1983 lawsuit, although there are some various aspects of the case that could trigger a statute of limitations. For instance, if there is a personal injury aspect of the lawsuit, that would be a three-year window to file the case. Some other aspects could have a longer timeframe, and others it could be shorter. It is best to file a lawsuit as quickly as possible.
Police Misuse of Tasers
While police are out in the field, their face danger every night and they sometimes do not know when their lives might be in jeopardy. It could be during a domestic call or even during a traffic stop. Unfortunately, there are times when the situation turns violent. Police officers are trained to practice non-violent methods when it comes to restraining or subduing a suspect. However, there are times when extreme force becomes necessary. Firearms are used as a last resort when either the police officer or an innocent victim is being threatened. An effective alternative for subduing a suspect is a taser gun, which is an electronic device that gives off a non-lethal jolt of electricity. The jolt causes extreme muscle contractions and immobilizes the suspect long enough for the police officer to regain control of the situation.
There are times, however, when a taser gun is used incorrectly or excessively by a police officer, resulting in serious bodily harm to the suspect. This can lead to a lawsuit against the police officer or the precinct. If someone is injured because of taser abuse, they are urged to contact a civil rights attorney as soon as possible.
Los Angeles Civil Rights Lawyer at ACTS Law Fight for Those Whose Civil Rights Have Been Violated
If your civil rights have been violated, contact the Los Angeles civil rights attorneys at ACTS Law. We understand the undue stress put on a person when their civil rights are violated, and we will fight to obtain the justice you deserve. We can help you obtain appropriate compensation for the harm you or a loved one has suffered. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at or contact us online.
With offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, we serve clients throughout Southern California.