Civil Rights

On this page: Legal Rights


All people have the fundamental right to be free from discrimination. This right is protected by a robust but incomplete patchwork of various civil rights laws that prohibit many forms of discriminatory conduct by federal, state, and local governments, as well as by private individuals, businesses, and other entities. Discrimination may be prohibited on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, 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 takes many forms, including denial of access to valuable opportunities or benefits such as work, credit, or public or private goods or services. It includes prejudicial targeting of groups or individuals for harsh or unequal treatment (e.g., predatory financial products or hate crimes). It also may be found in policies or practices that appear neutral but whose effects are grossly unequal, at least where an alternative and equally effective approach is available and less unfair in result (see Chapter 5, Employment—Equal Treatment of Age Discrimination with Other Forms of Discrimination for more information). Private enforcement of antidiscrimination laws is a necessary complement to government enforcement in achieving a society without discrimination and obtaining redress for victims of discrimination.

Civil Rights: Policy

Enforcing civil rights laws

In this policy: FederalLocalStateLegal Rightscivil rightsdiscrimination

Government agencies should vigorously enforce the fundamental right of all people to be free from discrimination. Civil rights statutes should be enacted and implemented to assist in the elimination of practices that target specific groups and communities 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.

Policies and programs that seek to redress past and current discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity should be enacted and enforced.

Government agencies should conduct outreach to bilingual communities to educate and inform them about how to obtain enforcement of their civil rights.

Government executives should nominate and appoint to civil rights enforcement or implementation positions only people who are committed to vigorous enforcement and meaningful implementation of such laws.

Congress and state legislatures should be vigilant in monitoring administration of civil rights laws, consistent with their broad remedial purposes, and should amend civil rights laws as needed to restore important civil rights protections, which from time to time are diminished by unduly restrictive interpretations of such laws by the US Supreme Court and state supreme courts.

Protecting against hate crimes

In this policy: FederalLocalStateLegal Rightscivil rights

Legislation should be enacted to address hate crimes and strengthen existing laws against such crimes.

Found in Civil Rights