If I don't fall into a protected class, what civil rights laws am I protected under?
UPDATED: June 19, 2018
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Many civil rights laws in the United States are intended to protect suspect classes. This historically includes racial minorities (Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans, etc) and religious groups. Women are also sometimes included among protected classes for the purposes of determining discrimination in court.
Primary Goals of Civil Rights Laws
Civil rights protections are designed to ensure the availability of civil rights to every U.S. citizen. The object of civil rights is not to favor one group, but to move our laws and social structure toward equality both in principle and in practice. These protections are related to the idea of color blindness, elimination of glass ceilings, and other such concepts related to illegal and improper favoritism.
When Laws Demonstrate Preference for One Group Over Another
Laws supporting blanket preferences for one group over another are almost never upheld by the court system. However, new laws aimed at protecting certain groups are created and upheld with some frequency. The Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, enables certain civil rights protections for people with disabilities. This Act is not, however, a law setting those with disabilities above those without disabilities. It is a law enabling those with disabilities to be on par with those without. The point is to enable everyone to stand together equally.
Difference between Protection and Privilege
Without the ADA's special protections, those with disabilities could not live equally on par with those who don't have disabilities. By no fault of their own, those with disabilities would be disadvantaged if the ADA did not exist. That is why the ADA does not provide a privilege, it provides protections. Though it can sometimes seem like a privilege from a nondisabled person's standpoint, that is merely an issue of perspective. Similar principles underlie all civil rights protections for classes (race, religious group, sex, etc) that historically (before laws were put in place) have been denied opportunities to stand on equal footing in this country - sometimes for decades or even centuries.
Difference between Affirmative Action and Racial Quotas
In the late 1970's, Allan Bakke took legal action after he was denied admission to medical school, arguing that quotas for minorities kept him out. This case came to be called the first reverse discrimination suit. Bakke lost the case, and was later admitted to medical school. The US Supreme Court ruled that strict racial quotas are illegal, but affirmative action is not illegal. More recently (Ricci v. DeStefano), the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of several white firefighters, who argued they had been unfairly denied promotions because of a policy encouraging minority hiring.
How Are Civil Rights Laws Supported and Enforced?
There are also state and federal agencies designed to enforce the civil rights protections in the statutes and in the Constitution of the United States (e.g. - the Equal Protection Clause). These resources, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), are available to everyone, and are meant to protect the rights of every United States citizen.
Always consult an attorney if you believe your rights have been violated in any way. Attorneys (representatives, agents) are a part of the enforcement mechanism contemplated by the U.S. Constitution. Your representative can thus inform you of your rights in your particular situation and jurisdiction.