All people have the fundamental right to be free from discrimination. Various civil rights laws protect this right. They prohibit many forms of discriminatory conduct. For example, discrimination may be prohibited on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and disability. Antidiscrimination laws also cover sexual orientation, gender identity, or other forms of group identity. The effectiveness of antidiscrimination provisions often depends on policies or programs to provide equal opportunities to groups that have suffered or are suffering discrimination. Enforcement agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, must be able to collect data on discriminatory practices in order to identify problems and develop remedies.
Discrimination can take many forms:
- Valuable opportunities or benefits such as work, credit, or public or private goods or services may be denied to members of a protected class.
- Hate crimes include victims targeted based on their age, gender, race, or other protected class.
- Abusive practices such as predatory financial products have a disparate impact on certain groups.
- Some seemingly neutral practices can have a disparate impact on certain groups, for example, hiring practices that effectively result in age discrimination (see also Chapter 5, Employment—Employment Discrimination Against Older Workers).
Individuals must retain the right to take private action for discrimination claims. This ensures that those who are discriminated against can be compensated. It complements government enforcement efforts.
CIVIL RIGHTS: Policy
Enforcing civil rights laws
The fundamental right of all people to be free from discrimination should be vigorously enforced. Policymakers should enact and implement civil rights statutes. They should eliminate practices that target specific groups for discrimination and exploitation. Data on discriminatory practices should be collected to identify problems and assist in developing effective remedies.
Government agencies and entities should comply with all applicable federal, state, and local civil rights laws. State governments should waive their sovereign immunity to suits for damages under these laws to ensure that their own employees are protected to the same degree as other employees.
Policymakers should enact and enforce policies and programs that seek to redress past and current discrimination. They should ensure equal opportunity for all.
Government agencies should conduct outreach to bilingual communities to educate and inform them about how to obtain enforcement of their civil rights.
When filling civil rights positions, the government should hire only people who are committed to vigorous enforcement and meaningful implementation of civil rights laws.
Congress and state legislatures should be vigilant in monitoring administration of civil rights laws, consistent with their broad remedial purposes. They should amend civil rights laws as needed to restore essential protections that may have been weakened by the courts.