Civil Rights and Discrimination Laws

Below is a list of federal laws that guarantee civil rights and prohibit discrimination in a number of settings, including links to the full texts of those laws. (Note: Many states have civil rights laws of their own which mirror those at the federal level, so your state may have its own laws that are very similar to those identified below. In addition, municipalities like cities and counties can enact ordinances and laws related to civil rights.)

  • Air Carrier Access Act of 1986
    Prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the provision of (including access to) air transportation.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    Protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in many aspects of life, including employment, education, and access to public accommodations.
  • Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
    Requires that buildings and facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds after September 1969 must be accessible to and useable by handicapped persons.
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act
    Prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or because an applicant receives income from a public assistance program.
  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
    Requires that employers pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of whether the employees are male or female.
  • Fair Housing Act
    Prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
    Gives employees the right to take time off from work in order to care for a newborn (or recently adopted) child, or to look after an ill family member.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    Ensuring that the rights of students with disabilities are protected, and that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education.
  • National Voter Registration Act
    Establishes procedures to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for national office.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act
    Prohibits employment discrimination against female workers who are (or intend to become) pregnant — including discrimination in hiring, failure to promote, and wrongful termination.
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973
    Protects disabled individuals from discrimination by employers and organizations that receive federal financial assistance.
  • Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
    Protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws; also protects the religious exercise of inmates and other persons confined to certain institutions.
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
    Prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds, to increase educational and athletic opportunities for females in schools and colleges nationwide.
  • U.S. Code Title 42, Chapter 21 — Civil Rights
    Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code prohibits discrimination against persons based on age, disability, gender, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) in a number of settings — including education, employment, access to businesses and buildings, federal services, and more. Chapter 21 is where a number of federal acts related to civil rights have been codified — including the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
  • The U.S. Constitution | Articles | Amendments
    The U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1789, outlines the role and operation of government in the United States. Includes links to all articles and amendments, with annotations.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
    Prohibits the denial or restriction of the right to vote, and forbids discriminatory voting practices nationwide.
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Civil Rights and Discrimination: U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Following is a list of U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving civil rights and discrimination.

  • Dred Scott v. Sanford (1856) | (Case Background)
    A major precursor to the Civil War, this controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision denied citizenship and basic rights to all blacks — whether slave or free.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
    This decision allowed the use of “separate but equal” racially segregated accommodations and facilities.
  • Korematsu v. U.S. (1944)
    The Court in this case upheld the conviction of an American of Japanese descent, who had been prosecuted for remaining in California after a 1942 presidential order designating much of the west coast a “military area”, and requiring relocation of most Japanese-Americans from California (among other west coast states)
  • Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)
    This decision held that “racially restrictive covenants” in property deeds are unenforceable. In this case, the “covenants” were terms or obligations in property deeds that limited property rights to Caucasians, excluding members of other races.
  • Bailey v. Patterson (1962)
    The Court in this case prohibited racial segregation of interstate and intrastate transportation facilities.
  • Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
    In this case, the Court found that criminal defense attorneys must be provided for indigent criminal defendants.
  • Loving v. Virginia (1967)
    This decision holds that state laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage are unconstitutional.
  • Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968)
    The Court held in this case that federal law bars all racial discrimination (private or public), in sale or rental of property.
  • Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971)
    In this case, the Court decided that certain education requirements and intelligence tests used as conditions of employment acted to exclude African-American job applicants, did not relate to job performance, and were prohibited.
  • Lau v. Nichols (1973)
    The Court found that a city school system’s failure to provide English language instruction to students of Chinese ancestry amounted to unlawful discrimination.
  • Roe v. Wade (1973)
    In this landmark case, the Court decided that a woman’s right to abortion is part of the constitutional right to privacy.
  • Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. LaFleur (1974)
    Found that Ohio public school mandatory maternity leave rules for pregnant teachers violate constitutional guarantees of due process.
  • Batson v. Kentucky (1986)
    This decision holds that a state denies an African-American defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposefully excluded.
  • Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)
    The Court holds that a Georgia statute criminalizing same-sex sodomy is constitutional.
  • Johnson v. Transportation Agency (1987)
    The Court decides that a county transportation agency appropriately took into account an employee’s sex as one factor in determining whether she should be promoted.
  • Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Serv., Inc. (1987)
    In this case, the Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment can form the basis for a valid claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992)
    The Court decided that an award of money damages is possible in a case brought to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging sexual harassment and abuse by a teacher.
  • Romer v. Evans (1996)
    In this case, the Court finds that an amendment to Colorado’s constitution, which sought to preclude legal protection of homosexuals’ rights, is unconstitutional.
  • Bragdon v. Abbott (1998)
    The Court holds that HIV infection qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth (1998)
    Holding that an employee who refuses unwelcome and threatening sexual advances of a supervisor (but suffers no real job consequences) may recover against the employer without showing the employer is at fault for the supervisor’s actions.
  • Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998)
    The Court decides that an employer may be liable for sexual discrimination caused by a supervisor, but liability depends on the reasonableness of the employer’s conduct, as well as the reasonableness of the plaintiff victim’s conduct.
  • Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (1999)
    In this case, the Court explains how to determine whether an impairment “substantially limits” a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
    The Court holds that a Texas statute criminalizing same-sex conduct is unconstitutional.
  • Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)
    In this case, the Court finds that a law school’s limited “affirmative action” use of race in admissions is constitutional.