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. But you should be aware that for certain types of discrimination and civil rights violation allegations, you must file a claim or complaint with a federal or state agency before you file any private lawsuit in court, and these agencies typically set strict time limits for claim filing.
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 (EEOC) before filing any private lawsuit, and must do so within 180 days of the alleged offense. Only after receiving a "right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC may individuals file a lawsuit. Another example is if you were the victim of a housing discrimination. You would contact the Housing and Urban Development Commision (HUD).
State agencies may also investigate a complaint for civil rights violations or discrimination, and may work alongside (or in place of) a federal agency. For example, employees who allege job discrimination in California may file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. As part of its standard procedure, that state agency will usually send the complaint to the EEOC at the federal level, so that it becomes a "dual filing."
Filing the Claim/Complaint
Get an Attorney's Help With Filing a Government Claim
The various types of civil rights cases, and the number of federal and state agencies that may have an interest in your case, make it difficult to discuss specific government claim-filing requirements. So, if you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation and are unsure whether you must file a claim with the government before proceeding with a lawsuit, the best place to start is to speak with a civil rights attorney.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.