The term civil rights has a very broad meaning, and most people do not know what it encompasses. Civil rights generally means the rights of individuals to receive equal treatment based on certain legally-protected characteristics. In other words, your civil rights can be violated based on many different characteristics, such as race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sex, family status and more. The violation may also occur in many different settings, from employment to housing to healthcare. It is also important to note that while an individual may have violated your civil rights, you may also seek redress against that individual’s employer as part of your lawsuit, which will generally lead to a larger recovery.
The New York Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex or marital status in employment, housing, education, credit and access to public accommodations. The Human Rights Law holds employers (with 4 or more employees), businesses that offer goods, services or facilities to the public, and certain real estate sellers and landlords. Essentially, the Human Rights Law will protect you from a wide variety of discriminatory treatment from most employers, businesses and landlords.
New York City also has a Human Rights Law that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on race, color, creed, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, disability or marital status. In addition, the law afford protection against discrimination in employment based upon criminal history, such as arrests or convictions.
One of the ways civil rights lawsuits differ from a tort (personal injury) lawsuit is a requirement to file a claim with a government agency before filing a personal lawsuit. Each government agency has its own deadline, or statute of limitations, for filing a claim. For example, if you are alleging discrimination at work, you must file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights within 300 days or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days. Generally, you would file with both agencies, allowing them to cooperate in the investigation of your allegations. As a result, your case could end up in a federal or a New York state court, which is a decision made based on the circumstances of your case.
The largest difference between the New York State Division of Human Rights and the EEOC is their scope. The Division of Human Rights covers more types of discrimination than the EEOC. The EEOC is also limited to employers of a certain size, while the Division of Human Rights covers a larger number of employers, along with landlords and business owners.
Any person whose civil rights have been violated by unlawful discriminatory practices can bring a cause of action for damages, including punitive damages for housing discrimination. If the discriminatory practice involves termination from a job, the victim may be entitled to reinstatement of their position the payment of back wage, or if reinstatement does not occur then the victim may be entitled to both back wages and future wages as well.