Civil Rights are different from any other rights we have as citizens of a free country.  They represent the basic principles of democracy and fairness, and protect our individual ability to live life on our own terms.   Therefore, it goes to stand that our civil rights are just about the single most important truth we are all afforded as American citizens. Thus, whenever a person’s civil rights are violated by another, the violation is deeply personal.

Historically, the “Civil Rights Movement” referred to efforts toward achieving true equality for African-Americans in all facets of society, but over time the term “civil rights” had expanded to describe the advancement of equality for all people regardless of their “race, sex, age, national origin or religion.”  These people were said to belong to a “protected class”.

In 1980, this protected “class” was further expanded to protect the rights of disabled persons in institutions, the elderly in government-run nursing homes, and prisoners. As part of a settlement to a federal lawsuit that was originally bought in 1972 by a group of parents, volunteer organizations, and individual residents against Willowbrook State School for the Mentally Retarded, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (1980) was enacted.

Distinguishing “Civil Rights” from “Civil Liberties”

It is important to note the difference between “civil rights” and “civil liberties.”

“Civil rights” has traditionally revolved around the basic right to be free from unequal treatment based on certain protected characteristics (race, gender, disability, etc.) in settings such as employment, housing, and movie theaters.

“Civil liberties” concern basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed — either explicitly identified in the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution, or interpreted through the years by courts and lawmakers.

Civil liberties include:

  • Freedom of speech
  • The right to privacy
  • The right to be free from unreasonable searches of your home
  • The right to a fair court trial
  • The right to marry
  • The right to vote

One way to consider the difference between “civil rights” and “civil liberties” is to look at

  1. What right is affected; and
  2. Whose right is affected.

For example, as an employee, you do not have the legal right to a promotion, mainly because getting a promotion is not a guaranteed “civil liberty.” However, as a female employee you do have the legal right to be free from discrimination in being considered for that promotion — you cannot legally be denied the promotion based on your gender (or race, or disability, etc.). By choosing not to promote a female worker solely because of the employee’s gender, the employer has committed a civil rights violation and has engaged in unlawful employment discrimination based on sex or gender.

If you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation, the best place to start is by calling the firm and speaking to Robert Santoriella. Important decisions related to your case can be complicated — including which laws apply to your situation, and who is responsible for any harm you suffered.  Mr. Santoriella will personally evaluate all aspects of your case and explain all options available to you, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.