Illegal Discrimination

When you're treated differently because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability, your rights are being violated.

There are many Federal laws against discrimination. They were passed to protect people who, because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability, are denied their rights.

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Discrimination might occur when an individual tries to vote; rent, or buy a home; use a public facility; get a job, an education, or a bank loan, or do many other things.

Discrimination is treating one person differently than another because of a particular characteristic. Not all kinds of different treatment are illegal or even unfair; for example, States allow only their own residents to vote in State elections.

Discrimination is illegal when it is based on:

race, which is generally understood to be membership in a racial group. Depending on which law is involved, membership in an ethnic group can also constitute race;

color, which refers to a person's actual skin shade, and may constitute a separate discrimination factor regardless of the person's race;

sex, which refers to gender;

religion, which refers to a person's religious beliefs and practices, or lack thereof, or a person's membership in a religious group;

national origin, which refers to an individual's country of origin, the origin of an individual's ancestors, or the physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of a particular nationality. This includes characteristics such as last name, accent, and cultural heritage;

age, which refers to persons age 40 or over; or

disability, which refers to physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activity of an individual.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against and want to file a complaint with the Federal Government, this publication is intended to help you.

This publication will help you to review your rights and guide you through the initial step of filing a discrimination complaint; it will not inform you of all the steps involved in successfully pursuing the complaint after you have filed it. If you seek a detailed description of the overall process beyond this initial step, further information can be obtained by contacting the Federal, State, and local officials or one or more of the organizations listed in this publication.

How do you make out a complaint? Where do you send it?

Before you bring a discrimination complaint you should take steps to obtain more information from:

trained legal counsel;

Federal, State, and local officials;

public service organizations referenced in a section of this publication.

States, counties, and municipalities also have laws against discrimination, and theirs sometimes provide different protection or relief. If they have laws that apply, you can file a complaint with them instead of, or in addition to, filing one with the Federal Government. The Federal Government has arrangements with some State and local governments to refer certain kinds of complaints to them.

Among the Federal laws which require people to be treated equally are the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, the Individuals With Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and Executive Order 11246 (1965) as amended by Executive Order 11375 (1967).

Many Federal agencies are responsible for enforcing these laws and the regulations in place to implement them. Sometimes the government must get a specific complaint from an individual before it can act against an individual or organization that violates people's rights. Because laws and regulations frequently require that complaints be filed within certain time limits, it is important to file as soon as possible after the discriminatory act occurs.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) has no power to enforce laws and, hence, cannot resolve individual complaints of discrimination. After reading this publication, if you are still uncertain what agency you should contact in bringing a complaint of discrimination, you may write to us at the following address and we can assist you by referring your case to the appropriate agency:

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR)

Office of Civil Rights Evaluation


624 9th St., NW

Washington, DC 20425

(202) 376-8513


TDD/TTY: (202) 376-8116

Fax: (202) 376-8315

E-Mail: ocre.complaints@usccr.sprint.com

You may also write to the appropriate USCCR regional office.

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