FAQ – Civil Rights

What is illegal discrimination?

Discrimination is treating someone differently based on his/her membership in a “protected class.” Protected classes include race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, physical or mental disability, receipt of public assistance, and age.

Who can I sue for illegal discrimination?

You may sue any individual, company, or entity who subjects you to illegal discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, public services, education, credit, or business.

Can I sue my child’s school for student-on-student bullying?

It depends. Minnesota has anti-bullying laws, but those laws don’t allow people to enforce them by bringing lawsuits. Instead, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is charged with ensuring compliance of those laws. But other state and federal laws impose a duty on school districts to ensure an educational environment free from discrimination or harassment based on a student’s membership in a “protected class.” Accordingly, courts have found that school districts can be sued if they turn a blind eye to student-on-student harassment based on, for example, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Can I sue the police for false arrest?

You can win a lawsuit against the police for false arrest if you can show that the officer who caused your arrest did so without a reasonable belief of probable cause.

Do I have to consent to a police officer’s request to search my house, car, or person?

You may refuse to consent to a search, unless the officer has obtained a warrant, or the officer has authorization to conduct the search under one of the numerous exceptions to the warrant requirement. If the officer asks for your consent to conduct a search, however, that may be a signal that he does not otherwise have authority to do so – if he had the authority, then he would probably just conduct the search without asking for your permission. Police officers wishing to conduct “consent searches” do not have a duty to warn people of their right to withhold consent.

This infographic is a helpful tool for understanding your rights when interacting with police officers.

If I win damages in a lawsuit against the police, who will pay the damages?

In almost all of our cases, an insurance company or the police officer’s employer pays the judgment for the police officer. In Minnesota, many cities and towns have insurance that covers police officers. Some of the big cities are self-insured, which means that they have set aside funds to pay judgments.

When a police officer commits misconduct while on duty, his or her employer usually will pay the judgment. The exception is when an officer is guilty of malfeasance in office, willful neglect of duty, or bad faith, such as when a police officer rapes a woman after an arrest. If the police officer is guilty of malfeasance in office, willful neglect of duty, or bad faith, his or her employer may refuse to pay a judgment against the officer. In a case like that, you need to be able to win a judgment against the city or town to ensure that you will be compensated for your injury.

If I win my civil suit against police officers, will the officers lose their jobs or face discipline?

A civil suit does not result in discipline of a police officer. Discipline is imposed only by an internal administrative investigation. Police departments do not usually consider civil verdicts or settlements in deciding whether to conduct administrative investigations.

The verdict itself has no effect on the result of an administrative disciplinary decision. However, in rare cases, internal investigations have found that officers who lied at their depositions for civil lawsuits should be fired for untruthfulness.

If your goal is to see that a police officer is disciplined, you should file an internal administrative complaint with the police department. You can file an internal complaint and a civil suit at the same time, but you should consult with your lawyer before you file the internal complaint.

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