From race discrimination, to sexual harassment, to fair housing rights violations—if you believe your civil rights have been denied, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your legal rights. Below you will find introductory information about civil rights enforcement. Your two main options after a potential civil rights violation are to file a claim with a government agency, or a private lawsuit in civil court.
This article covers the basics of civil rights enforcement and provides links to more in-depth information on those two options.
Filing a Claim with the Government
For most cases involving civil rights violations, one of your options is to file a complaint with the government at the federal or state level, and allow a government agency to take steps to enforce your civil rights. Filing a complaint will usually trigger an investigation into your claims by the agency, and the government may take further action on your behalf.
Whether your complaint is handled at the federal or state level will depend on the facts of your case and the claims involved (what laws were allegedly violated, etc.). What matters most is that your complaint gets filed; after that, the agencies will decide where and how your case will be handled. In most cases, neither the offender nor the victim need be affiliated with the government. It is important to note that, for some types of civil rights cases, a claim must be filed with the government before any private lawsuit may be pursued.
Filing a Private Lawsuit for a Civil Rights Violation
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.
Once you decide to file a lawsuit for a civil rights violation, one of your first considerations will be where to file: in federal or state court. Depending on the specifics of your case, the choice may be yours, or your options may be dictated by a law. Regardless of where the case is handled (federal or state court), in order to begin the case the person claiming a civil rights violation (the "plaintiff") files a "complaint" with the court. The complaint sets out certain facts and allegations, in an attempt to show that the opposing party (the "defendant(s)") is/are responsible for the civil rights violations alleged in the complaint, and for any harm suffered by the plaintiff as a result. Remember that, for some types of civil rights cases, you must file a claim with the appropriate government agency before pursuing any private lawsuit.
Locate a Civil Rights Attorney
You can file a government claim or you can choose to file a lawsuit; these are the options for seeking relief for a civil rights violation. Discussing your specific case with a civil rights attorney can better inform you as to which alternative best suits your needs. You can use the FindLaw directory to locate a civil rights attorney in your area.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.