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Civil Rights laws - Information on the law about Civil Rights

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Civil rights laws are among the most volatile and controversial in the American legal system. The force behind these laws is that certain groups of individuals in our society need protection from infringement on certain basic rights that are recognized under our legal system and are inherent in our form of government.

Civil rights are considered fundamental to all citizens under the Constitution of the United States. These rights include freedom of speech and association, freedom to seek employment, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of religious belief, race, or national origin. When certain groups have historically been denied any of these civil rights, the government has stepped in to make it illegal to interfere in that group's exercise of their rights. For example, African Americans historically have been excluded from certain types of activities in pursuit of their livelihoods. Thus civil rights laws have been enacted at both the federal and state levels to both guarantee African Americans their rights to freely seek employment in the workplace and to obtain an education in the institution of their choice without fear of discrimination on the basis of race and to provide a legal remedy for individuals who are discriminated against. Under civil rights law, acts by certain classes of people that deny others their civil rights can be either criminal in nature or actionable in civil court.

Federal civil rights laws may be enforced by the Justice Department. Usually, violations of the laws are punished by fines and/or injunctions. They may also serve as the basis for private lawsuits by individuals. Civil rights laws usually specify limits to the amount of recovery available in lawsuits filed under them. Also, they often require that a civil rights suit be filed under the available statute, rather than under general common law. This is called the doctrine of preemption, where civil rights laws preempt ordinary tort actions. Preemption is important because it caps the amount of damages for which a defendant may be liable.

Many states have gone even further than the federal laws in protecting civil rights. In those states that have established their own civil rights laws, most have authorized either the creation of new state agencies or have authorized existing agencies to handle the enforcement, administration, and/or investigation of violations of the laws. In some cases, the jurisdiction of the agencies is preemptive. For example, if a worker is fired because of his or her age, the firing may violate civil rights laws against age discrimination. If the state laws preempt private actions, the employee may only bring the complaint against the employer through the state agency or under the state law. In this case, the employee is bound by any restrictions regarding the type or size of the remedy. If the state law is not preemptive, or if the state law permits separate rights of action by the employee, the employee will be free to pursue his or her own course of action against the employer in court. The potential recovery for individual acts of discrimination or other civil rights infringements can be virtually limitless.

In many states civil rights laws may be very specifically divided in coverage and in agencies within state government. Housing and employment are the most frequent specific types of discrimination covered by state laws.

Table 31: Civil Rights

State Code Section Agency Administrative Preemption Private Action Permitted? Attorney Fees Statute of Limitation
ALABAMA 25-1-20, et seq.(Age); 24-8-1, et seq. (Housing) Age: Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs No Yes Age: Yes; Housing: Discretionary Age: 300 days; Housing: 180 days with agency; 1 yr. private actions
ALASKA 18.80.200, et seq. (Generally); 14.18.010 (Education) Commission for Human Rights; Board of Regents No Yes Discretionary Not specified
ARIZONA 41-1401, et seq. Civil Rights Advisory Board No §41-1492.08 (c): Yes §41-1481 (J): Yes 2 yrs.; 180 days through the Civil Rights Division §41-1492.09
ARKANSAS 21-3-201, et seq. (Public Employment); 4-87-101, et seq. (Credit); 11-4-601 (Employment); 16-123-107, et seq. (Generally) Employment: Department of Labor No Public Employment: No; Credit: Yes; Employment: Yes; Generally: Yes Credit: Yes; Employment: Yes; Generally: Discretionary Credit: 1 yr.; Employment: 2 yrs.; Generally: 1 yr.
CALIFORNIA Civ. §§51, et seq. (Public Accommodations) Gov. §12940 et seq. (Housing & employment Civ §§51: None; Gov. §12940: Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing No Yes Yes Civ. §51: 3 yrs.; Gov. §12940: 1 yr./agency
COLORADO 24-34-301, et seq. (Generally) Civil Rights Commission 24-34-305: Yes, with exception 24-34-306: Yes Yes 24-34-306: variable
CONNECTICUT 46a-51, et seq. (Generally) Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities 46a-52: Yes Yes Yes 180 days, except violation of §46a-80a: 30 days
DELAWARE Tit. 6 §4601, et seq. (Housing); Tit. 19 §710, et seq. (Employment); Tit. 6 §4500, et seq. (Public Accommodations) Housing & Public Accommodations: Human Relations Commission; Employment: Dept. of Labor Yes Housing: Yes; Employment: Yes; Public Accommodations: No Housing: Yes; Employment: Yes; Public Accomodations: No Employment: 90/120 days; Housing: 1 yr.; Public Accommodations: 90 days

Table 31: Civil Rights—Continued

State Code Section Agency Administrative Preemption Private Action Permitted? Attorney Fees Statute of Limitation
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA 2-1401.01, et seq. (Generally); 7-1001, et seq. (Handicapped) Generally: Commission on Human Rights; Handicapped: None No Generally: Yes; Handicapped: No Generally: Yes; Handicapped: No Generally: 1 yr.; Handicapped: Not specified
FLORIDA 760.01, et seq. Commission on Human Relations Yes Yes, after exhaustion Yes 365 days/agency
GEORGIA 7-6-1 and 2 (Credit); 34-1-2 (Age); 45-19-20, et seq. (Public Employment); 8-3-200, et seq. (Housing) Public Employment and Housing: Commission on Equal Opportunities No 7-6-2: Yes; 34-1-2: No; Public Employment: No; Housing: Yes 7-6-2: No; 34-1-2: No; Public Employment: Discretionary; Housing: Yes Public Employment: 180 days/agency Housing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private
HAWAII 378-1, et seq. (Employment); 515-1, et seq. (Housing); 489-1, et seq. (Public Accommodations) Employment, Housing, Public Accommodations: Civil Rights Commission Yes Employment: No; Housing: Yes, with exceptions; Public Accommodations: Yes Employment: Yes; Housing: Yes; Public Accommodations: Yes Employment: 90 days; Housing: 1 yr.; Public Accommodations: Not specified
IDAHO 67-5901, et seq. (Generally) Commission on Human Rights No Yes No 1 yr.
ILLINOIS 775 ILCS 5/1-101 and 102; 5/7A-102 and 104 Human Rights Commission and Dept. of Human Rights Yes Yes, for temporary relief Yes 180 days
INDIANA 22-9-1-1, et seq. Civil Rights Commission No Yes No Not specified
IOWA 216.1, et seq. (Generally); 729.4 (Employment) Generally: Civil Rights Commission; 729.4: None Generally: Yes 729.4: No Generally: Yes; 729.4: No Generally: Yes; 729.4: No Generally: 180 days; 729.4: Not specified
KANSAS 44-1001, et seq. (Generally); 44-1015, et seq. (Housing); 44-1111, et seq. (Employment and Age) Generally, Housing, Employment and Age: Commission on Human Rights Yes Generally: No; Housing: Yes; Employment and Age: No No Generally: 6 months; Housing: 1 yr.; Employment and Age: 300 days
KENTUCKY 344.010, et seq. (Generally) Commission on Human Rights Yes Yes Yes 180 days
LOUISIANA 46:2251, et seq. (Handicapped); 51:2601, et seq. (Housing); 23:301, et seq. (Employment) Handicapped: None; Housing: Louisiana Dept. of Justice; Employment: None Handicapped: No Housing: No; Employment: No Handicapped: Yes; Housing: Yes; Employment: Yes Handicapped: Yes; Housing: Yes; Employment: Yes Handicapped: 80 days to 1 yr.; Housing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private action; Employment: Not specified

Table 31: Civil Rights—Continued

State Code Section Agency Administrative Preemption Private Action Permitted? Attorney Fees Statute of Limitation
MAINE Tit. 5 §§4551, et seq. Human Rights Commission Yes Yes Yes, with conditions 6 months
MARYLAND Art. 49B§1, et seq. Commission on Human Relations Yes Yes Discretionary Art. 49B§9A: 6 months
MASSACHUSETTS Ch. 151B §1, et seq. (Generally); Ch. 272 §§92A, 98 (Public Accommodations) Generally: Commission Against Discrimination; Public Accommodations: None Generally: Yes; Public Accommodations: No Generally: No; Public Accomodations: Yes Generally: Yes; Public Accomodations: No Generally: 300 days; Civil Rights Actions: 3 yrs.—civil action (Ch. 260 §5B)
MICHIGAN MCL 37.2101, et seq. Civil Rights Commission No Yes Yes 3 yrs.
MINNESOTA 363A.01, et seq. Dept. of Human Rights No Yes Yes 1 yr.
MISSISSIPPI 43-33-723, et seq. (Government Housing) 25-9-149 (State Service Employment) Government Housing: Home Corporation Oversight Committee; State Service Employment: None Government Housing: Yes; State Service Employment: Yes Government Housing: No; State Service Employment: No Government Housing: No; State Service Employment: No Government Housing: Not specified; State Service Employment: Not specified
MISSOURI Ch. 213.010, et seq. (Generally); Ch. 408.550 (Credit) Generally: Commission on Human Rights; Credit: None Generally: Yes; Credit: No Generally: Yes; Credit: Yes Yes Generally: 180 days with commission; 2 yrs. civil action; Credit: Not specified.
MONTANA 49-2-101, et seq. (Generally); 49-4-101, et seq. (Handicapped) Generally: Commission for Human Rights; Handicapped: None Generally: Yes; Handicapped: No Generally: Yes; Handicapped: Yes Generally: Yes; Handicapped: Yes Generally: 180 to 300 days; Handicapped: 2 yrs. (§27-2- 211)
NEBRASKA Ch. 20-301, et seq. (Generally); 48-1001, et seq. (Age); 48-1101, et seq. (Employment) Equal Opportunity Commission Generally: No; Age: Yes; Employment: Yes Yes Generally: Yes; Age: Not specified; Employment: Yes 300 days; Generally and Age: variable
NEVADA 613.310, et seq. (Employment); 651.050, et seq. (Public Accommodations) Ch. 598B.010, et seq. (Credit) Employment: Equal Rights Commission; Public Accommodations: Equal Rights Commission; Credit: Banking Division Employment: Yes; Public Accommodations: No; Credit: No Yes Employment: Yes; Public Accommodations: Yes; Credit: No Employment: 180 days; Public Accommodations: 1 yr.; Credit: 1 yr.

Table 31: Civil Rights—Continued

State Code Section Agency Administrative Preemption Private Action Permitted? Attorney Fees Statute of Limitation
NEW HAMPSHIRE Ch. 354-A:1, et seq. Commission for Human Rights Yes No Discretionary 180 days
NEW JERSEY 10:5-1, et seq. Division on Civil Rights No Yes Yes 180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private action
NEW MEXICO 28-1-1, et seq. Human Rights Commission No Yes Yes 180 days with commission/30 days for de novo appeal
NEW YORK Exec. §290, et seq. (Generally); Civ. Rights §§18a to 47c (Public Accommodations and Public Housing) Generally: Division of Human Rights; Public Accommodations and Public Housing: State Human Rights Appeal Board No Yes No Generally: variable; Public Accommodations and Public Housing: Not specified
NORTH CAROLINA 143-422.1, et seq. (Employment); 41A-1, et seq. (Housing) Human Relations Commission No Employment: No; Housing: Yes Employment: No; Housing: Yes Employment: None; Housing: 1 yr.
NORTH DAKOTA 14-02.4-01, et seq. Division of Human Rights No Yes Yes 180 days (Housing); 300 days (Employment)
OHIO Ch. 4112.01, et seq. (Generally) Civil Rights Commission No Yes Discretionary 1 yr.
OKLAHOMA Tit. 25 §1101, et seq. Human Rights Commission Yes No Yes 180 days
OREGON 659A.001, et seq. Bureau of Labor and Industries No Yes Yes 1 yr.
PENNSYLVANIA Tit. 43 §951, et seq. Human Relations Commission Yes Yes Discretionary 180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private action
RHODE ISLAND 34-37-1, et seq. (Housing); 28-5-1, et seq. (Employment); 42-87-1, et seq. (Handicapped) Handicapped, Housing: Commission for Human Rights; Employment: Commission Against Discrimination Handicapped, Housing: No; Employment: Yes Yes Yes Housing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private action; Employment: 1 yr.; Handicapped: Not specified

Table 31: Civil Rights—Continued

State Code Section Agency Administrative Preemption Private Action Permitted? Attorney Fees Statute of Limitation
SOUTH CAROLINA 1-13-10, et seq. (Employment); 31-21-10, et seq. (Housing) Human Affairs Commission Employment: Yes; Housing: No Employment: No; Housing: Yes Employment: No; Housing: Yes Employment: 180 days; Housing: 180 days/agency, 1 yr./private action
SOUTH DAKOTA 20-13-1, et seq. (Generally); 60-12-15, et seq. (Sex) Generally: Commission of Human Rights; Sex: None Generally: Yes; Sex: No Generally: Yes; Sex: Yes Generally: Yes; Sex: Yes Generally: 180 days; Sex: 2 yrs.
TENNESSEE 4-21-101, et seq. Human Rights Commission No Yes Yes 180 days/agency; 1 yr./private action
TEXAS Hum. Res. §121.001, et seq. (Disabled); Lab. §21.001, et seq. (Employment); Prop. §301.001, et seq. (Housing) Hum.: None; Lab., Prop.: Human Rights Commission No Yes No Hum.:Not specified; Lab.: 180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private action; Prop: 1 yr./agency, 2 yrs./private
UTAH 13-7-1, et seq. (Public accommodations); 34A-5-101, et seq. (Employment); 57-21-1, et seq. (Housing) Public Accommodations: None; Employment: Antidiscrimination Division; Housing: Labor Commission Public Accommodations: No; Employment: Yes; Housing: No Public Accommodations: Yes; Employment: No; Housing: Yes Public Accommodations: Not specified; Employment: Yes; Housing: Yes Public Accommodations: 3 yrs. (§78-12-26); Employment: 180 days; Housing: 180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private
VERMONT Tit. 9 §4501, et seq. (Public Accommodations); Tit. 21 §495, et seq. (Employment) Public Accommodations Human Rights Commission; Employment: None No Yes Yes Public Accommodations: Not specified; Employment: 6 yrs. (Tit. 12 §511)
VIRGINIA 36-96.1, et seq. (Housing); 40.1- 28.6 (Equal Pay); 2.2-3900, et seq. (Generally) Housing: Fair Housing Board and Real Estate Board; Equal Pay: None; Generally: Human Rights Council No Yes Housing: Yes; Equal Pay: No; Generally: Yes Housing: 1 yr./agency, 2 yr./private; Generally: 180 days
WASHINGTON 49.60.010, et seq. Human Rights Commission No Yes Yes 6 months except real estate 1 yr.
WEST VIRGINIA 5-11-1, et seq. Human Rights Commission No Yes Yes 1 yr./agency; 2 yrs./private action

Table 31: Civil Rights—Continued

State Code Section Agency Administrative Preemption Private Action Permitted? Attorney Fees Statute of Limitation
WISCONSIN 106.50 (Housing and Public Places); 111.31, et seq. (Employment) Housing and Public Places and Employment: Dept. of Workfare Development Housing and Public Places: No; Employment: Yes Housing and Public Places: Yes; Employment: Yes Housing and Public Places: Yes; Employment: No Housing and Public Places: 1 yr./private action, 1 yr./agency; Employment: 300 days
WYOMING 27-9-101, et seq. (Employment) Dept. of Employment Yes No No 90 days
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