Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

What are Civil Rights?

"Civil rights" are the rights of individuals to receive equal treatment (and to be free from unfair treatment or "discrimination") in a number of settings—including education, employment, housing, and more—and based on certain legally-protected characteristics.

Historically, the "Civil Rights Movement" referred to efforts toward achieving true equality for African-Americans in all facets of society, but today the term "civil rights" is also used to describe the advancement of equality for all people regardless of race, sex, age, disability, national origin, religion, or certain other characteristics.

Where Do Civil Rights Come From?

Most laws guaranteeing and regulating civil rights originate at the federal level, either through federal legislation, or through federal court decisions (such as those handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court). States also pass their own civil rights laws (usually very similar to those at the federal level), and even municipalities like cities and counties can enact ordinances and laws related to civil rights.

Civil Rights: Getting Attorney Kopko’s Help

If you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation, the best place to start is to speak with Mr. Kopko. 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. Attorney Kopko will evaluate all aspects of your case and explain all options available to you, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

"Civil Rights" vs. "Civil Liberties"

"Civil rights" are different from "civil liberties." Traditionally, the concept of "civil rights" has revolved around the basic right to be free from unequal treatment based on certain protected characteristics (race, gender, disability, etc.), while "civil liberties" are more broad-based rights and freedoms that are guaranteed at the federal level by the Constitution and other federal law.

It is important to note the difference between "civil rights" and "civil liberties." The legal area known as "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 and housing. "Civil liberties" concern basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed—either explicitly identified in the Bill of Rights and the 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." But, 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.

New York Civil Rights Laws

Code Section Exec. §290, et seq. (Generally); Civ. Rights §§18a to 47c (Public Accommodations and Public Housing)
Agency Generally: Division of Human Rights; Public Accommodations and Public Housing: State Human Rights Appeal Board
Administrative Preemption No
Private Action Permitted? Yes, file suit in New York Supreme Court
Attorney Fees Recoverable by Plaintiff? No
Statute of Limitations Generally: variable; Public Accommodations and Public Housing: Not specified

Pennsylvania Civil Rights Laws

Code Section Tit. 43 §951, et seq.
Agency Human Relations Commission
Administrative Preemption Yes
Private Action Permitted? Yes
Attorney Fees Recoverable by Plaintiff? Discretionary
Statute of Limitations 180 days/agency, 2 yrs./private action

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