Federal Statutes Dealing with Protection of Civil Rights

There is an array of civil rights available under federal law, to protect individuals from discrimination.  Although these laws have similar features, the type of discrimination that they prohibit and the circumstances under which they operate vary from statute to statute.  Apart from the federal statutes, there are additional civil rights protections that are available under state or local statutes or federal or state constitutional laws as well.  The main statutes dealing with protection of civil rights include the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Fair Housing Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Rehabilitation Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Civil Service Reform Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Congressional Accountability Act, and the Reconstruction Statutes.

  1. Civil Rights Act of 1964 The Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1964 is one among the most important civil rights legislation enacted in modern times.  This statute served as a model for subsequent anti-discrimination laws, and greatly expanded civil rights protections in a wide variety of settings. 
    • Title VII of the CRA prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.   The Pregnancy Discrimination Act enacted as an amendment to the sex discrimination provisions of Title VII, made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including the federal government and state and local governments.  Aggrieved individuals can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for enforcing individual Title VII claims against private employers.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces Title VII against state and local governments, but only after the EEOC has conducted an initial investigation.
    • Title VI of the CRA prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs or activities on the basis of race, color, or national origin.  An aggrieved individual can file a complaint with the federal agency that provides funds to a recipient, or they may file a lawsuit in federal court.  Each federal agency is responsible for enforcing Title VI compliance with respect to its funding recipients, but DOJ plays a role in coordinating federal Title VI activities.
    • Title II of the CRA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in public accommodations.  Public accommodations are defined as establishments that serve the public and have a connection to interstate commerce.  These include hotels and motels, restaurants and bars, and entertainment venues such as movie theaters or sports arenas. The DOJ enforces Title II.
  2. Equal Pay Act of 1963 – The Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex with regard to the compensation paid to men and women for substantially equal work performed in the same establishment.  The act is enforced by the EEOC.  Pay discrimination claims may also be brought under Title VII of the CRA.
  3. Voting Rights Act of 1965 – The Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.  Specifically, the act prohibits the use of discriminatory redistricting plans or voter registration procedures and authorizes the use of federal voting observers to monitor elections.  DOJ enforces the statute, but individuals can also sue in federal court.
  4. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 – Like Title VII of the CRA, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of age.  The ADEA, which protects individuals who are age 40 or older, applies to employers with 20 or more employees and is enforced by the EEOC.
  5. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), which was originally enacted in 1968, prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status.  The statute applies to both public and private housing and may be enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), DOJ, and individuals who file suit in federal court.
  6.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – Like Title VI of the CRA, Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination is tied to federal funding.  Specifically, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities.  Although the Title IX regulations bar recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of sex in a wide range of educational programs or activities, such as student admissions, scholarships, and access to courses, the statute is perhaps best known for prohibiting sex discrimination in intercollegiate athletics.  Individuals who believe they are victims of discrimination may file a complaint with the federal agency that provides education funds to a recipient, or they may file a lawsuit in federal court. 
  7. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally conducted and federally funded programs or activities, as well as in employment by the federal government and by federal contractors.  In addition, the act authorizes an array of grant programs that support vocational rehabilitation services to assist individuals with physical or mental disabilities in achieving employment and social integration.  DOJ is responsible for administering the provisions regarding discrimination in federally conducted and federally funded programs or activities, while the provisions regarding nondiscrimination in federal employment and nondiscrimination by federal contractors are enforced by the EEOC and the Department of Labor (DOL), respectively.
  8. Equal Credit Opportunity Act – The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits discrimination against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or source of income.  DOJ enforces the statute, but individuals may also file a complaint with the federal agency that oversees the creditor, or they may sue in federal court.
  9. Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 – The Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) prohibits discrimination in educational opportunities on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin.  Specifically, the statute prohibits school segregation, as well as the failure of a school to take appropriate action to overcome students’ language barriers.  The statute is enforced by DOJ.
  10. Age Discrimination Act of 1975 – The Age Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in federally funded programs or activities.  Individuals who believe they are victims of discrimination may file a complaint with the federal agency that provides education funds to a recipient, or they may file a lawsuit in federal court.  As with Title VI and Title IX, each federal agency is responsible for enforcing Age Discrimination Act compliance with respect to its funding recipients, but the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plays a role in coordinating federal activities.
  11. Civil Service Reform Act of 1978- The Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) prohibits discrimination in federal employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, marital status, or political affiliation.  Specifically, the statute prohibits discrimination in certain personnel practices, including, but not limited to, hiring, promotion, transfers, and pay and benefits.  In addition, the statute prohibits discrimination on the basis of conduct that does not adversely affect the performance of an employee or job applicant.  This provision has been interpreted to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The CSRA is enforced by both the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board.
  12. Immigration and Nationality Act – Under amendments adopted in 1986, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of national origin or citizenship status.  The act, which prohibits discrimination against U.S. citizens and legal immigrants but not unauthorized aliens, also protects individuals from unfair documentary practices relating to the employment eligibility verification process.  The statute is enforced by DOJ.
  13. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is the most recently enacted piece of major civil rights legislation in the nation, prohibits discrimination based on disability in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.  The ADA’s employment discrimination provisions, which apply to employers with 15 or more employees, are enforced by the EEOC, while the public services and public accommodations provisions are administered by DOJ.  Individuals may also sue in federal court for violations of the ADA, although they must first file a complaint with the EEOC before filing an employment discrimination claim in federal court.
  14. Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 – The Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) applies several existing civil rights, labor, and workplace laws to employees of the legislative branch of the federal government.  Specifically, with regard to civil rights laws, the act applies Title VII of the CRA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Rehabilitation Act to the legislative branch.  The act is administered by the Office of Compliance.

Inside Federal Statutes Dealing with Protection of Civil Rights