It is illegal discrimination if a person or a company intentionally treats you differently based on your race, ethnicity, or national origin. For example, a landlord violates the law if you apply to rent an apartment and are told that the landlord doesn’t rent to Black people. Likewise, it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a person of color because of that person’s race, ethnicity, or national origin.
Some forms of illegal discrimination may be subtler. For example, an employer or housing or credit provider may adopt policies that cause unjustified and disproportionate harm to people of a particular race, ethnicity, or national origin. For example, refusing to hire anyone with any sort of criminal record disproportionately hurts Black and Latinx job applicants, who are more likely than whites to have criminal records in the current criminal justice system. Many kinds of convictions, including old convictions, will have nothing to do with an applicant’s ability to do the job. A blanket policy excluding people with criminal records would amount to illegal “disparate impact” discrimination. Additionally, depending on the reasons why this particular policy was adopted, the facts could show that the policy was driven by a desire to exclude people of color with criminal records, in which case the policy would constitute illegal intentional racial discrimination as well.
- Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in housing, credit, employment, and “public accommodations” like restaurants, movie theaters, parks, and trains.
- You cannot be denied a home, a job, or service at a business that is open to the public because of your race, ethnicity, or national origin, and you cannot be charged a different price because of your race, ethnicity, or national origin.
- The Constitution prevents the government from subjecting you to worse treatment because of your race, ethnicity, or national origin in any situation.
- State and local laws may also provide protection against discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.
What to do if you believe your rights have been violated
- Gather all the documents that might support your claim — emails, text messages, application forms, for example — and locate the people who witnessed the discriminatory conduct.
- Write down a timeline of events and all the facts that lead you to believe you were discriminated against.
- You can show that you’ve been subject to intentional discrimination by pointing to people of a different race, ethnicity, or national origin who received better treatment, or by pointing to actions by the landlord or employer that don’t make sense in the absence of discrimination.
- Figure out which government agency can take your complaint. This can be somewhat confusing because there are federal, state, and local agencies that may be able to help, and the process varies depending upon where you live. Start with the websites for the federal agencies: for housing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; for jobs, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and for consumer credit, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- Your city or town may also have its own civil or human rights agency that can help.
- These agencies will ask you to file a description of your complaint with any supporting documents and conduct an investigation at no cost to you. Be aware that the time period for filing a complaint may be short. The process may result in monetary damages for you as well as the opportunity to be considered for the job or housing at issue, and it could require the employer or housing provider to change its policies going forward.
- You may also consider filing a lawsuit in state or federal court.
Could I face retaliation for filing a complaint?
- Take note of any action that your current landlord or employer takes against you after learning of your complaint or lawsuit. That conduct could violate your First Amendment right to be free from retaliation for complaining about discrimination.
- If this happens, you can make a separate complaint with the appropriate agency for retaliation or amend your lawsuit to include a retaliation claim.
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