Civil Rights Violations

 Every citizen in the United States is granted certain rights and freedoms that cannot be violated under any circumstances. These rights include freedom of speech; freedom of religion; the right to petition the government; the right to due process; and freedom from discrimination based on sex, race, religion, or any other protected class. Civil rights protections have come a long way over the past 200 years; slavery was abolished, women earned the right to vote, and same-sex couples can be legally married. Despite the protections offered by the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other state and federal laws, civil rights violations continue to be committed by individuals, companies, and powerful government officials. If a person’s civil rights were violated, they may be entitled to compensation. However, this can be a long and complicated process. It is highly recommended to contact an experienced civil rights lawyer with a proven track record of reaching successful outcomes for victims of civil rights violations.

Types of Discrimination

The following are common types of civil rights violations:

  • Employment discrimination: According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee based on his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. More recently, other laws have been passed that extend these protections to cover age, disabilities, sexual orientation, and other factors. An employer cannot prevent an individual from being hired, fire an employee, or create a hostile work environment based on these factors. Labor organizations may not deny membership into an apprenticeship program based on discriminatory practices. Employment agencies are also prohibited from engaging in discriminatory hiring practices.
  • Housing: The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination during the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. For example, it is illegal to set terms and conditions of a home loan so that it discriminates against certain buyers. In addition, it is illegal to request personal information about birth control or family practices; or to commit acts of harassment, intimidation, or violence against individuals or families.
  • Government discrimination: One of the most common forms of this type of discrimination involves police officers who unfairly target people of color. False imprisonments, arrests, and being pulled over for no probable cause are examples of civil rights violations. The recent shootings and other incidents involving the police have brought a great deal of attention to this matter.
  • Public accommodations: According to the State Government Article, §20-304, Annotated Code of Maryland, the owner of a restaurant, hotel, theater, museum, recreational center, retail establishment, or any other place of public accommodation may not refuse service or deny entrance to anyone based on their race, sex, age, color, creed, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
  • Commercial non-discrimination policy: This policy states that the state should not enter into a contract with a business that has demonstrated a history of discriminatory behavior toward vendors, suppliers, subcontractors, or commercial customers based on race, color, religion, sex, or any other protected class.

Examples of Civil Rights Cases

  • Excessive use of force: If a police officer’s life is in danger, it may be necessary to use deadly force. In addition, a police officer may use more force when a suspect is resisting arrest compared to a suspect who cooperates and is compliant. However, if the amount of force used by a police officer is unreasonable based on the surrounding facts and circumstances, it may be a civil rights violation.
  • Malicious prosecution: This claim states that an officer did not allow the victim their Fourteenth Amendment rights. The victim would need to show the following in order to have a successful claim:
    – The police officer began a criminal proceeding
    – The victim won the proceeding
    – There was no probable cause
    – The police officer had malicious intent with the proceeding
  • Police brutality: When police officers abuse their power, the effects can be devastating, particularly if the officer uses extreme force. Physical injuries can include broken bones, neck and spinal injuries, eye injuries from pepper spray, and even death if the victim does not receive medical attention in time. Victims may also suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Racial profiling: Oftentimes, people of color are targeted by law enforcement and made to endure humiliating, often frightening interrogations, property searches, and other behavior that is a violation of the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law.
  • Title IX claims: Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 states that no person can be excluded from participating in, or benefitting from, an education program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. This applies to all schools that receive federal funds. These educational institutions must offer male and female athletes proportional scholarships and equal treatment in terms of equipment and supplies, access to tutors, coaching, housing, medical and training facilities, and recruitment of student athletes. In addition, schools must provide opportunities for both sexes that are proportionate to the school’s enrollment rate, demonstrate a history of program expansion for the under-represented sex, or make accommodations for the under-represented sex.
  • Unwarranted search and seizure: The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens from unwanted search and seizure of personal property. It was created to ensure that government officials do not overstep their boundaries. A police officer or government official must have probable cause to search a home or property. In some cases, a search warrant is necessary. If someone gives permission to enter their home, this will likely be construed as giving consent. However, if the person does not give consent, and the police officer enters the home, it is a civil rights violation.
  • Violation of First Amendment rights: The First Amendment protects the right to free speech, religion, and peaceful demonstration. When these rights are denied, it is a civil rights violation. The Constitution, as well as federal and state laws, protect the following freedoms:
    – Freedom of Speech: Americans have a right to express themselves verbally and in written form. Censorship is a violation of civil rights.
    – Freedom of the Press: The public relies on the media to report unbiased news about local, state, national, and global events. It is a First Amendment violation to censor the media.
    – Freedom of Religion: The First Amendment states that Americans have a right to practice their faith openly or refuse to participate in acts that violate their religious beliefs. It is a violation of civil rights to deny one’s religious freedom.
    – The Right to Assembly: Americans have a right to gather peacefully to protect or seek change in important issues. If police or other government officials interfere or prevent citizens from assembling, it is a civil rights violation.
    – The Right to Petition: The Constitution states that Americans have a right to seek change in ordinances, policies, or laws that they believe are offensive or ineffective.
  • Wrongful termination: An employee may not be fired because of his or her sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other protected class. In addition, it is illegal to terminate that employee simply because he or she lodged a complaint against the employer.

Why is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Important?

The Civil Rights Act prohibits segregation on the grounds of race, religion, or national origin at all public places, including parks, restaurants, courthouses, sports arenas, and hotels. The Act also prohibited the use of federal funds for any discriminatory programs that assisted with desegregation efforts. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers and labor unions from discriminating against workers based on race, religion, national origin, or gender. Significant expansions of the Civil Rights Act included protections for disabled Americans, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

How Does the Federal Law 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Protect a Person’s Civil Rights?

This law allows someone to enforce their constitutional rights against persons who are acting on behalf of a state or local government. If someone wishes to file a claim, they must prove that they were deprived of a constitutional right by another person who was acting under the color of state law. Section 1983 does not contain any substantive rights, so someone cannot claim that their rights were violated. However, the law allows the person to sue someone who deprives them of their Constitutional rights, including the First Amendment’s right to free speech, the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Oftentimes, it is police officers, prison guards, and other state employees who are considered acting under color of state law. Although someone cannot sue a private person for a purely private action, if a private citizen is acting with state authority or on behalf of the state, the victim of discrimination can bring a claim against that person. Individuals may be able to obtain the following if their claim has a successful outcome:

  • Compensation for any injuries they may have suffered
  • Punitive damages
  • An injunction order that requires the defendant to either stop doing something or to take a specific action
  • Declaratory relief, which is a court-issued statement stating that the claim has been investigated and the court found that the defendant was in the wrong

How Does Someone File a Civil Rights Claim?

The process of filing a civil rights claim can be overwhelming and confusing, as there are several things that must be considered before moving forward with a lawsuit. Depending on the specific allegations, the person may need to file a claim or complaint with a federal or state agency before proceeding with a private lawsuit. For example, if the case involves employment discrimination, the individual will be required to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before they pursue a private lawsuit. In addition, they must file the claim within 180 days of the alleged offense. Once the person is issued a right to sue letter from the EEOC, they may proceed with the lawsuit. Other state agencies may also work with the EEOC, or any other federal agency involved, to investigate the complaint. An experienced civil rights lawyer will walk the client through every step of the claims process and tell them whether it is necessary to file a government claim.

If a person plans to proceed with a civil rights lawsuit, they will need to consider whether to file in federal or state court. Depending on the circumstances of the case, that decision may be up to the individual or it will be dictated by a specific law that applies to their case. Either way, they will need to file a complaint with the court. The complaint includes all relevant facts and allegations that demonstrate how the defendant violated the person’s civil rights and the harm they suffered as a result of the violation. A civil rights lawyer will ensure that the person files the claim with the appropriate government agency before pursuing a private lawsuit.

What Should Someone Expect from a Civil Rights Lawsuit?

Lawsuits that involve civil rights violations are handled in a civil court. If the case goes to trial, the person filing the complaint must prove that the defendant violated their civil rights and that he or she is responsible for the alleged damages. A civil case generally consists of the following phases:

  • Starting the case: This may include the following documents:
    – Complaint/petition
    – Summons and service of process
    – Answer
    – Counterclaim
    – Reply to counterclaim
    – Crossclaim
    – Answer to crossclaim
    – Third-party complaint
    – Answer to third-party complaint
  • Fact-finding and discovery: This methodical process includes the following forms:
    – Written discovery: Interrogations and requests for admission
    – Document production
    – Depositions
  • Resolution before trial: Pre-trial motions may include the following:
    – Motion to dismiss based on legal deficiencies including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, insufficiency of process, or failure to claim upon which relief may be granted
    – Summary judgment motion
    – Motion for default judgment
  • Resolution during trial: When considering settling, it is important to discuss the case with a lawyer and consider the following:
    – Chances of winning
    – Weaknesses in the evidence
    – The defendant’s monetary resources
    – Minimum amount client is willing to accept
  • After a judgment: If the person filing the complaint wins the case, they will be awarded damages, which will be paid by the losing party. If that person cannot pay or is unwilling to pay, additional steps may be needed to collect compensation.
  • Appeals: The appeals process can be complex. It is highly recommended that someone filing a complaint seek assistance from an experienced civil rights lawyer who can guide them through each phase of the process and ensure that their legal rights are protected.

Baltimore Civil Rights Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Justice for Victims of Civil Rights Violations

If your civil rights were violated as a result of your race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other protected class, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore civil rights lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our skilled legal team will thoroughly review your case, determine whether your civil rights were violated, and recommend the best legal course of action. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie and Prince George’s County, we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood and Elkridge.