Federal Law > Discrimination Laws > Reconstruction-Era Civil Rights Statutes

Reconstruction-Era Civil Rights Statutes

The Reconstruction-Era Civil Rights statutes are in Sections 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1986 of Title 42 of the United States Code. They were originally enacted by Congress in the years immediately following the Civil War in order to support the 13th and 14th Amendments. All four statutes enable private individuals to maintain a cause of action in federal court to enforce particular civil rights. Section 1981 provides a cause of action for racial discrimination by both private and public entities. Section 1983 applies only to state action which violates the 14th Amendment. Section 1985 and 1986 prescribe certain conspiratorial actions intended to deprive individuals of certain rights, privileges and immunities.

Section 1981 is most often litigated, and since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the law protects against racial and ethnic discrimination in the employment relationship. It covers all aspects of the employment relationship, including on the job harassment. One of the primary advantages to a plaintiff bringing an action under Section 1981 is the fact that there is no cap on compensatory and punitive damages. It is required, however, under Section 1981 that discriminatory intent be proved. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, other remedies include back pay, equitable relief, loss of work benefits, and attorney fees as provided by the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 provides that any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of Sections 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1986 may allow the prevailing party reasonable attorney's fees as part of the costs.
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