Multiple federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, addresses racial discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and education. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 strengthened protections against discrimination in housing. State laws also deal with these issues. If you believe you have experienced unlawful discrimination based on race, you need a racial discrimination attorney who can help you understand your options and advocate for your rights. The Cochran Firm and its team of attorneys have fought against racial discrimination both in and out of the courthouse for more than fifty years. They can guide you through the legal process 

What kinds of racial discrimination are illegal?

Federal law, which applies to all fifty states and the District of Columbia, prohibits racial discrimination in multiple areas. State laws may provide additional protections. Areas in which racial discrimination is unlawful, and which could result in liability for monetary damages, include the following:


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of race, color, national origin, and several other categories. This may involve discrimination based on someone’s actual or perceived race in:

  • Hiring;
  • Compensation;
  • Benefits;
  • Features of employment, such as favorable shift assignments;
  • Wrongful termination; and
  • Harassment, also known as hostile work environment.

An obvious example of racial discrimination in employment would be an employer who refuses to hire applicants that the employer believes belong to a particular race. Racial discrimination can be more subtle than this, though.

Unlawful discrimination can occur in situations where the employer did not specifically intend to discriminate on the basis of race. A workplace policy or practice can be unlawful under Title VII if it has a disproportionate impact on members of a particular race. For example, an employer who refuses to hire anyone with a past felony conviction could violate Title VII if (1) the policy is not necessary for the employer’s business, and (2) it has a disproportionate racial impact on hiring.

Public accommodations

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 deals with discrimination in “public accommodations,” which includes hotels, theaters, restaurants, and other businesses that serve the general public. At the time the law passed, segregation was still widespread in the southern U.S. states. This law helped bring that practice almost entirely to an end.

If a person believes that a business is violating Title II, they can bring a lawsuit for “injunctive relief,” meaning a court order stopping the unlawful activity. They may also recover attorney’s fees and other costs.


Two parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 address racial discrimination in education. Title IV desegregated public school systems throughout the country, but only allows enforcement by the U.S. Attorney General. Title VI addresses discrimination in programs that receive funding from the federal government. This includes a substantial number of schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country.

Under Title VI, federally-funded programs may not discriminate against anyone or exclude them from any opportunities that they offer on the basis of race or national origin. Schools may not do any of the following because of the race or national origin of a student or prospective student:

  • Refuse to admit them;
  • Exclude them from school activities, including extracurriculars;
  • Deny them educational opportunities for which they otherwise qualify, such as advanced or honors classes; or
  • Keep them separate (segregated) from other students.

This part of the statute does not allow students to file lawsuits. It does, however, provide for the removal of federal funding for programs that engage in unlawful racial discrimination.


Congress first prohibited racial discrimination in housing in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, but that law was almost completely unenforceable. It would take another century to get a federal law that could help people. Titles VIII and IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), improved protections against racial discrimination, but the situation is still far from perfect.

Federal law prohibits numerous forms of discrimination in housing based on race or national origin:

  • Refusing to sell or rent to someone;
  • Discriminating in the terms and conditions of a sale or rental, such as charging higher rent to members of one race;
  • Refusing to list a property for sale or rent;
  • Refusing to show properties to someone;
  • Advertising a property for sale or rent in a way that restricts a protected group;
  • Threatening or interfering with someone’s efforts to obtain housing; and
  • Retaliating against someone who helps people assert their legal rights under this law.

A person who believes they have experienced unlawful housing discrimination can file a complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They may also file a lawsuit in federal court.

Police brutality

The issue of police brutality has gained prominence thanks to movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM). For almost ten years, BLM has highlighted how police brutality has a disproportionate impact based on race, particularly in Black communities. Federal law provides some means to recover damages for injuries sustained because of police brutality.

A person who has suffered injuries because of unnecessarily brutal treatment by a law enforcement officer can file a “1983 claim.” This type of claim is named for its placement in Title 42, section 1983 of the United States Code. It holds a person personally liable for injuries that they cause “under color of any statute” or other law.

A plaintiff can file a lawsuit under § 1983 in federal court. In order to recover damages directly from a law enforcement officer, the plaintiff has to prove that the officer violated a “clearly established” constitutional right. Otherwise, the doctrine of “qualified immunity” protects the officer from liability. The problem with this is that the term “clearly established right” has no obvious definition. Courts often disagree about which rights are “clear” and which are not.

If qualified immunity protects the officer, the plaintiff may still recover damages from the government. For example, if a court finds that qualified immunity applies to an individual officer from a city police department, the city may pay the plaintiff’s damages. This compensates the plaintiff for their injuries but does little to address the problem of police brutality.

What do I do if I have experienced racial discrimination?

If you believe you have experienced or are experiencing unlawful discrimination based on race, you can take several steps to protect yourself and your legal rights. The exact process depends on your particular situation. The following steps can help you get started:

Protect yourself from further harm

If you are in a dangerous situation, try to get yourself to safety. You might not be able to remove yourself, though, if the problem involves a job you cannot afford to lose or you are experiencing police brutality. 

Document the discrimination

Write down as much as you can about the discrimination you have experienced. If you are dealing with discrimination at work, try to keep a journal of incidents that describes what happened, provides dates and times, and lists the names of people involved.

Contact a racial discrimination attorney

An experienced attorney can review your situation and advise you of your rights. They can help you gather evidence and build a case. They will determine the best way to proceed, such as by filing an administrative complaint or going directly to the courthouse. Perhaps most importantly, they can take at least some of the pressure off of you.

Report your concerns to your employer

Some types of employment discrimination claims require you to report your concerns to your employer. If you are experiencing harassment in the workplace based on your race, for example, you must be able to show that your employer knew what was going on and failed to do anything to stop it.

File a complaint

You might have to file a complaint with an administrative agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before you can file a lawsuit. A racial discrimination lawyer can determine the best way to get your claim started.

Pursue legal action

If you are not able to resolve the matter through a settlement or administrative action, you might need to file a lawsuit. Federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits filed under federal law. If you file a claim based on a state anti-discrimination law, you might have to file in state court. Each court has its own rules about how to format and file lawsuits and other papers. Individual judges might have their own preferences, and they do not like it when someone files a document incorrectly. This is where a lawyer’s help is especially valuable.

How do I file a racial discrimination complaint?

The exact process for filing racial discrimination claim depends on the nature of the claim. If you are alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII, you must file a complaint with the EEOC. The agency will investigate your claims. It occasionally brings lawsuits itself on behalf of employees or job applicants. It usually issues a “right to sue” letter, which allows you to file your own lawsuit.

If you are claiming housing discrimination under federal law, you have two choices. You can file a complaint with the FHEO, or you can file a lawsuit in federal court.

Racial discrimination claims based on state law may follow different procedures. You might need to file a complaint with a state agency like the EEOC or FHEO first, or you might be able to file suit right away.

Claims under § 1983 usually require you to submit a notice of claim to the police department or law enforcement agency. The deadline to do this is usually not long after the incident occurs. If you cannot agree to a settlement with the government entity, you can file a lawsuit.

What kinds of damages are available in racial discrimination cases?

The types of damages you can recover in a racial discrimination case depend on the type of discrimination you are alleging. Title VII provides a range of damages for employment discrimination, potentially including:

  • Lost wages;
  • Lost benefits;
  • Back pay;
  • Other damages, such as medical expenses resulting from the discrimination;
  • Reinstatement to one’s previous position with full seniority and benefits;
  • Injunctive relief, such as a court order prohibiting further discriminatory policies or activities.

Some laws, such as Title VI, do not provide much in the way of compensation for people who have experienced discrimination. Section 1983 provides many of the same damages a plaintiff could get in a personal injury lawsuit, including compensation for medical expenses and other losses.

Where can I find a racial discrimination lawyer?

Racial discrimination is a complex area of law that requires experience and determination. Finding the best racial discrimination lawyer for your case means finding someone who understands the law, is willing to fight for your rights, and can help you get through a very difficult process. Whatever brought you to this page, you are off to a good start in finding an attorney for your case.

You can find lawyers through a variety of means. Some of the most effective means include:

  • Word of mouth: Do people that you know and trust recommend anyone?
  • State Bar Association: What does your local bar association have to say about any lawyers you might have found?
  • Client reviews: Online reviews are not always the most accurate way to assess a lawyer’s services, but they can give you an idea of how past clients feel.
  • Legal credentials: Does this lawyer have specialized training or experience in a particular area of law?
  • Accolades: Does a lawyer have the respect of their colleagues and peers?
  • Personality: Most important of all, do you get along with this lawyer? Can you see yourself working with them? Do they make you feel like you are in good hands?

Do I need an attorney to file a racial discrimination lawsuit?

As with most legal claims, you are not required to have a lawyer. The value of having someone on your side who knows how these systems work, though, is difficult to estimate. They can deal with the most difficult parts of the discrimination claim process because they have done it before. Let an experienced attorney help you.

Act quickly to protect your rights

The Cochran Firm is one of the country’s top plaintiffs’ litigation and criminal defense firms. Renowned lawyer Johnnie Cochran founded the firm over five decades ago. Its team of experienced racial discrimination attorneys has helped countless clients assert their legal rights. The firm handles discrimination cases on a contingent fee basis. You are not obligated to pay the firm a fee until they recover money for you.

Our call center staff is available 24/7 to talk about your case. Contact us today to speak with a Cochran Firm intake specialist or attorney and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation:

Our team will discuss your legal matter with the confidentiality, understanding, and respect you deserve.