Civil Rights Violation 

A civil rights lawyer will pursue violations for police misconduct and discrimination. It is important for people to know their legal rights and how they are protected from the government. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies and representatives have abused their power causing undeserved harm to innocent civilians. The Constitution was written to define the responsibilities of the government as the protector of our rights and to curb its power to infringe on our freedom. 

Federal Civil Rights Law

The Bill of Rights contains the first ten amendments in the United States Constitution. It defines the individual freedoms and rights granted to the people and sets limitations on the government’s power. For example, the Bill of Rights declares that all powers not explicitly given to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial segregation in schools, businesses, and other public places. It also outlawed unequal voting requirements and employment discrimination by race, color, religion, sex or national origin. This was the first step in equalizing the nation, by giving every citizen political and social freedom. 

Fundamental Civil Rights

People have fundamental civil rights, which are innate to all people. Certain fundamental rights are not listed in the Constitution. Rather, fundamental rights are incorporated through the “substantive due process” clause in the Constitution. People are born with these certain inalienable rights. For instance, we all have the fundamental rights to privacy, marriage, contraception, interstate travel, procreation, child-rearing, and voting. Moreover, people are granted the right to free speech pursuant to the First Amendment. The infringement of civil rights can come in different forms. 

Violation Of Due Process 

The procedural definition of due process is when a person is entitled to adequate notice of the government action to be taken against him. Every citizen is entitled to notice and a fair trial or hearing. The substantive definition of due process refers to the protection of certain fundamental rights from government interference. Fundamental rights include the right to privacy and other rights such as the right to use contraception, the right to an abortion, and the right to marry. Therefore, laws that restrict these fundamental rights are strictly scrutinized and must be carefully crafted so as to satisfy a compelling government purpose.

Right Of Privacy

The right of privacy refers to a person’s right to have their personal information protected from public view. It is often protected by statutory law. Two examples of this are the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); one enforces an individual right of privacy in medical records and the other includes the right of privacy in policies statements.

The right to privacy, however, must be balanced with the state’s interests as well. For example, an individual must obey seat-belt, helmet, and other laws that relate to commuting in order to maintain public safety. 

The fourteenth amendment defines one’s right to privacy: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

First Amendment Freedom of Speech 

Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

Freedom of speech is the right to express opinions with impunity. Even if the information contradicts a public figure (such as the President ) still that speech is protected. This refers to verbal and non-verbal communication. This amendment covers one’s rights to protest, to convey political messages, to use offensive words, to give money to support a political campaign, to advertise, to engage in symbolic speech ( i.e. burning a flag) and to remain silent. 

However, the right to free speech is not absolute. For instance, defamatory statements that injure a person’s reputation or standing in the community is not protected. Also, “fight words” are not protected. That is, speech that incites actions that would harm others is not protected by the First Amendment. This also includes speech such as shouting fire in a crowded theater. Moreover, obscenity is not protected. In the case Miller vs. California, the United States Supreme Court developed a three-part test to determine if speech qualifies as unlawful obscenity:

  • Whether the average person, applying “community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

In order for the government to legitimately impede on an individual’s right to free speech, there must be a compelling state interest and the government regulation must be narrowly tailored so as to not impede otherwise protected speech. An interest is compelling when it is essential or necessary to achieve a matter of public concern. The courts will scrutinize the challenged government regulation with strict review. Strict scrutiny places the burden on the government to demonstrate that it is using the most narrowly tailored, or least restrictive, means to achieve an interest that is compelling.

If you believe that your First Amendment rights have been violated, contact The Sterling Firm to speak with an experienced attorney. 

Law Enforcement Infringement of Civil Rights – Title 42 USC Section 1983 Lawsuits 

An individual’s civil rights can be violated by law enforcement personnel. When a law enforcement personnel commits an act while on duty, the officer is acting under “color of law” and “official right.” Therefore, the state government can be held accountable for any wrongdoing pursuant to Title 42 of the United States Code section 1983. 

Forced Confessions 

Sometimes, the police exert excessive force or tactics in order to cause the victim to accept charges that they, in fact, did not commit. By unlawfully forcing confessions of crimes, the police violate a person’s natural rights and should be held accountable.

False Arrest 

Due to the power that a police officer exercises, a police officer can arrest and put a person behind bars with minimal or insufficient evidence. However, in order for a police officer to legally make an arrest, the police officer must have an arrest warrant or probable cause that a crime has been committed. When a police officer makes an arrest without sufficient cause, the victim’s liberty has been infringed. As a result, the victim may suffer undue pain, shame, and embarrassment. Because the police officer is acting under “color of law”, the improper arrest violates Title 42 of the United States Code section 1983. 

Wrongful Death 

Police brutality sometimes leads to the wrongful death of an individual. There is no justifiable reason for the death of an innocent citizen. The family members of the deceased may bring a wrongful death action in order to recover damages. 

Unlawful Seizure 

The Fourth Amendment guards people against unreasonable governmental violations of their privacy rights. The Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures includes private dwellings and the immediate surrounding areas, offices, closed containers, and mail. Any unreasonable search done in these areas can constitute a violation of an individual’s civil rights.

Abuse With Taser 

Tasers give a certain power to its holder and can, therefore, be unnecessarily used by law enforcement officials. Consult with our team of lawyers to determine if the police officer’s use of a taser was justified or may be considered the use of excessive force under the circumstances.

Types of Employment Discrimination

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution also provides for equal protection of the laws. This also limits actions by any state actor and the federal government from discriminating in employment practices. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment. For instance, discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment is unlawful and violates an individual’s civil rights. The following are different forms of discrimination in the workplace: 

Racial Discrimination

Race discrimination refers to unfavorable treatment on the basis of an employee’s race or because of characteristics the employee has that are attributed to his race (such as skin color or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves unfair treatment because of one’s skin color complexion. This also covers discrimination targeted at someone who associates with a person of that race. 

Sex-Based Discrimination

Sex discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of that person’s sex. Discrimination on the basis of an individual’s gender identity, including a person’s transgender status, or because of sexual orientation is discrimination because of sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination involves treating an individual, such as a job applicant or employee, less favorably because of his or her age. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits age discrimination against those who are 40 years or older; it does not protect individuals younger than 40 years old. However, it is not illegal for an employer to favor an older employee over a younger one even if both are over 40 years old. 

Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of a woman (an applicant or employee) due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition associated with the pregnancy or childbirth. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) outlaws unequal treatment based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment. If a woman is unable to perform her job due to a medical condition associated with the pregnancy or childbirth for a temporary period, the employer is required to give her the same treatment that he would to a temporarily disabled employee. Moreover, if there are impairments occurring from the pregnancy the employer may have to provide reasonable accommodations. 

Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination is when an employer treats a qualified individual (an applicant or employee) unfavorably due to his or her disability. Disability discrimination also includes unfair treatment due to the employee’s history of a disability (such as cancer) or because the applicant may have a physical or mental impairment. An employee is required to give reasonable accommodations to the disabled persons unless it causes the employee undue hardship. It is also forbidden to discriminate against a person because they are associated with a person who has a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created in 1990 to outlaw discrimination and to protect people with disabilities and provide them with equal opportunities for employment, public accommodations, transportation, and commercial facilities. 

Title III of the ADA states: “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who . . . operates a place of public accommodation.” (42 U.S.C. section 12182(a).) “The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the enjoyment of public accommodations, including with respect to access.” (Jankey v. Lee (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1038, 1044.). To prove an ADA violation, the plaintiff must prove three elements:

  1. that plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of the ADA;
  2. that the defendant owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation; and
  3. that plaintiff was denied public accommodation due to his or her disability.

See Arizona ex re. Goddard v. Harkins Amusement Enters, Inc., 603 F.3d 666 (9th Cir. 2012);

Sexual Harassment Claims

It is forbidden to harass an individual (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other harassment of a sexual nature. However, it also covers offensive remarks either specifically about that person’s sex or generally about her sex. The victim and harasser can be the same sex or different. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a different supervisor, another employee, or a client or customer. 

Also, pursuant to state law, California Civil Code section 51.9 establishes a cause of action for sexual harassment in certain defined relationships where “[t]here is an inability by the plaintiff to easily terminate the relationship,” including, but not limited to, relationships between a plaintiff and a physician, landlord or teacher. (See Civil Code section 51.9, subdivision (a), subsection (1), (a),(d) & (e).) The elements for a violation include: 

  1. the existence of a business, service, or professional relationship; 
  2. the defendant has made sexual advances, solicitations, sexual requests, demands for sexual compliance by the plaintiff, or engaged in other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature or of a hostile nature based on gender, that were unwelcome and pervasive or severe; 
  3. there is an inability by the plaintiff to easily terminate the relationship; and 
  4. the plaintiff has suffered or will suffer economic loss or disadvantage or personal injury, including, but not limited to, emotional distress or the violation of a statutory or constitutional right, as a result of the conduct described in paragraph (2). 

See California Civil Code section 51.9.

Retaliation Cases

In most cases, retaliation claims are associated with discrimination. Employers are forbidden from punishing or firing employees who stand up against employment discrimination including harassment. Therefore, their rights include being able:

  • To file or be a witness in a complaint, investigation, or lawsuit 
  • To voice their concerns with their manager or boss about discrimination in their workplace
  • To answer questions during an investigation of harassment or discrimination 
  • To refuse to follow orders that would result in discrimination
  • To refuse sexual advances or mediating between two parties to protect them. 
  • To request an accommodation for a pregnancy-related medical condition, religious reason, or disability

Filing Claim With Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Before filing a lawsuit for employment discrimination, the victim must first exhaust the administrative remedies. The victim must file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within six months. 

If a person believes that they are a victim of employment discrimination, one can file a Charge of Discrimination. This claim states that an employer or labor organization engaged in employment discrimination and it asks the EEOC to take action. Therefore, before filing a job discrimination lawsuit, the victim must file a Charge of Discrimination. After the claim is submitted, the EEOC interviews the victim and helps guide the victim towards the correct course of action. 

Other Forms Of Civil Rights Injustice

Housing Discrimination

This form of discrimination refers to the less favorable treatment of a person related to housing. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act helps give every person an equal opportunity to find a place to live. The laws defined by this Act apply to landlords, real estate agents, home sellers, builders, and mortgage lenders, and it prohibits discrimination in any part of the housing business such as renting, leasing, sales, mortgage lending, and insurance. 

Unequal Opportunity To Education 

Under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, no child can be denied equal access to schooling. However, there have been cases of neglect and denial of these rights that withhold students of their rights. For example, special needs children have a statistically greater risk of being wrong. 

Our team of lawyers have experience in these forms of discrimination and are dedicated to seeking relief and compensation for injustices. 

California Civil Rights Legislation

The state of California has also passed legislation of its own addressing civil rights violations. For example, California has passed the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the Bane Act, and the Ralph Civil Rights Act. 

The Unruh Civil Rights Act

The Unruh Civil Rights Act was drafted by Jesse M. Unruh and enacted in 1959. The Unruh Civil Rights Act is codified as California Civil Code section 51. The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California. “Business establishments” include housing and public accommodations. “Business establishments” may also include government and public entities.The legislation outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation. However, the legislation also identifies the right of a business to refuse service to certain individuals. The Act covers all businesses including hotels and motels, restaurants, theaters, hospitals, barber and beauty shops, housing accommodations, and retail establishments. The legislative intent of the Unruh Civil Rights Act is to cover all arbitrary and intentional discrimination by a business establishment on the basis of any personal characteristics. 

The Bane Act

California Civil Code Section 52.1, which is known as the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, extends protection against intimidation, coercion, or threats that are associated with someone’s state or federal statutory or constitutional rights. 

Pursuant to the California Civil Jury Instructions, CACI No. 3066, to establish a Bane Act violation, the plaintiff must prove all of the following: 

  1. That the defendant made threats of violence against the plaintiff causing the plaintiff to reasonably believe that if he exercised his rights, defendant would commit violence against him or his property and that the defendant had the apparent ability to carry out the threats; or 
  2. That the defendant acted violently against the plaintiff and plaintiff’s property to prevent him from exercising his rights to retaliate against plaintiff for having exercised his right; 
  3. That the plaintiff was harmed; and
  4. That the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.

The rights covered by the Bane Act include: the right to association, assembly, due process, education, employment, equal protection, expression, formation and enforcement of contracts, holding of public office, housing, privacy, speech, travel, use of public facilities, voting, worship, and protection from bodily restraint or harm, protection from personal insult, from defamation, and from injury to personal relations. It highlights penalties, remedies, and reliefs and it is associated with hate crimes. The Bane Act does not cover speech unless the speech communicates an attempt at violence. 

To be successful in pursuing a Bane Act violation, the plaintiff does not need to allege that the defendant acted with discriminatory animus or intent. The plaintiff must only show that there was an interference or attempted interference with the plaintiff’s legal rights by the requisite threats, intimidation, or coercion. The Bane Act is aimed at protecting against “threats, intimidation or coercion”. 

Liability does not even require actual interference with the plaintiff’s legal rights. Instead, even an attempted interference is sufficient to give rise to a Bane Act violation. The test for whether a defendant violates Section 52.1 for interference with a legal right by threats, intimidation or coercion is whether a reasonable person, standing in the shoes of the plaintiff, would have been intimidated, threatened or coerced by the actions of the defendants. (Richardson v. City of Antioch (2010) 722 F.Supp.2d 1133, 1147; Winarto v. Toshiba America Electronics Components, Inc. (9th Cir. 2001) 274 F.3d 1276, 1289-90.) The Bane Act allows claims to be brought against “a person or persons, whether or not acting under color of state law ….” See California Civil Code section 51, subdivision (a). The scope of the Bane Act is very broad, and can even include corporations. 

The Ralph Civil Rights Act

The Ralph Civil Rights Act is similar to the Bane Act in that it protects individuals from violent attacks or threats, it offers compensation for victims, and it requires penalties for the perpetrators. For example, it provides protection for violence or threats done because of one’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, sex, or sexual orientation. The civil right protected by the Ralph Act is the right to be free from violence because of an individual’s race, sex or sexual orientation. Mere words alone are sufficient to give rise to a Ralph Act violation. The test is “‘would a reasonable person, standing in the shoes of the plaintiff, have been intimidated by the actions of the defendant and have perceived a threat of violence?’” See Winarto v. Toshiba America Electronics Components, Inc. (9th Cir. 2001) 274 F.3d 1276. Notably, Ralph Act violations can be alleged by an employee against an employer for workplace violence. 

Damages For Civil Rights Violations

The victim of a civil rights violation is entitled to recover compensatory damages.  Full compensation for all the damage and harm done whether it be from physical, bodily, financial, and property damages. Present and future losses are also recognized.  Forms of compensation that a victim is entitled include: 

  • Expenses from medical care, treatment, and nursing. 
  • Reimbursement for harms done to one’s property.
  • Compensation for income and wages lost due to injury. 
  • Suffering, emotional pain, and shame that one suffered as a result of civil rights injustice. 
  • Loss of capacity to earn income in the future.

Attorney Fees

Statutes also permit for the recovery of attorney’s fees. For example, the Bane Act (California Civil Code section 52) permits such relief as actual damages, statutory damages (including civil penalties), exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees. In addition, remedies for a Ralph Act civil claim are set forth in California Civil Code section 52, subdivision (b), which provides for actual damages, punitive damages, civil penalty, attorney’s fees as well as injunctive relief. The Unruh Civil Rights Act also provides that attorney’s fees “shall be awarded to the prevailing party.” 

Federal statutes may also allow for attorneys fees when pursuing a federal claim. For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act allows for the prevailing party to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.

Contact The Sterling Firm to speak with an experienced civil rights attorney.