Skip to Main Content

Legal Protections

Legal Protections

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

The traumatic events of the Second World War brought home that human rights are not always universally respected. The extermination of almost 17 million people during the Holocaust, including 6 million Jews, horrified the entire world. After the war, governments worldwide made a concerted effort to foster international peace and prevent conflict. This resulted in the establishment of the United Nations in June 1945.In 1948, representatives from the 50 member states of the United Nations came together under the guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt (First Lady of the United States 1933-1945) to devise a list of all the human rights that everybody across the world should enjoy.  On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) - 30 rights and freedoms that belong to all of us. Seven decades on and the rights they included continue to form the basis for all international human rights law. (

United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) is an instrument of international law that codified for the first time the crime of genocide. The Genocide Convention was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1948 and signified the international community’s commitment to ‘never again’ after the atrocities committed during the Second World War. Its adoption marked a crucial step towards the development of international human rights and international criminal law as we know it today.  According to the Genocide Convention, genocide is a crime that can take place both in time of war as well as in time of peace. The definition of the crime of genocide, as set out in the Convention, has been widely adopted at both national and international levels, including in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Importantly, the Convention establishes on State Parties the obligation to take measures to prevent and to punish the crime of genocide, including by enacting relevant legislation and punishing perpetrators, “whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals” (Article IV). That obligation, in addition to the prohibition not to commit genocide, have been considered as norms of international customary law and therefore, binding on all States, whether or not they have ratified the Genocide Convention (

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a key international human rights treaty, providing a range of protections for civil and political rights. The ICCPR, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, are considered the International Bill of Human Rights. The ICCPR obligates countries that have ratified the treaty to protect and preserve basic human rights, such as: the right to life and human dignity; equality before the law; freedom of speech, assembly, and association; religious freedom and privacy; freedom from torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention; gender equality; the right to a fair trial; right family life and family unity; and minority rights. The Covenant compels governments to take administrative, judicial, and legislative measures in order to protect the rights enshrined in the treaty and to provide an effective remedy. The Covenant was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966 and came into force in 1976. As of December 2018, 172 countries have ratified the Covenant. (

International  Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) aims to ensure the protection of economic, social and cultural rights including: the right to self-determination of all peoples (article 1); the right to non-discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (article 2); the equal right of men and women to enjoy the rights in the ICESCR (article 3); the right to work (articles 6–7); the right to form and join trade unions (article 8); the right to social security (article 9); protection and assistance to the family (article 10); the right to an adequate standard of living (article 11); the right to health (article 12); the right to education (articles 13–14); and the right to cultural freedoms (article 15).


United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women.  Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. The Convention defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."  By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including: to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women; to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and  to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.  The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life -- including the right to vote and to stand for election -- as well as education, health and employment.  States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.


United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984)

The Convention Against Torture is the most important international human rights treaty that deals exclusively with torture. The Convention obligates countries who have signed the treaty to prohibit and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in all circumstances. The Convention compels governments who ratified it to investigate all allegations of torture, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to provide a remedy to victims of torture.


United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child


In 1989 something incredible happened. Against the backdrop of a changing world order world leaders came together and made a historic commitment to the world’s children. They made a promise to every child to protect and fulfill their rights, by adopting an international legal framework – the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Contained in this treaty is a profound idea: that children are not just objects who belong to their parents and for whom decisions are made, or adults in training. Rather, they are human beings and individuals with their own rights. The Convention says childhood is separate from adulthood, and lasts until 18; it is a special, protected time, in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity. The Convention went on to become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children’s lives. (



Age Discrimination Act of 1975

Prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

(ADEA) Prohibits employers from discriminating against workers and applicants who are 40 years of age and older, based on their age.

Air Carrier Access Act of 1986

(ACAA) Prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the provision of (including access to) air transportation.

Americans with Disabilities Act

(ADA) Protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in many aspects of life, including employment, education, and access to public accommodations.

Architectural Barriers Act of 1968

Requires that buildings and facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds after September 1969 must be accessible to and useable by handicapped persons.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

Civil Rights Act of 1991

(Intentional Employment Discrimination) To amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to strengthen and improve Federal civil rights laws, to provide for damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination, to clarify provisions regarding disparate impact actions, and for other purposes.

Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act

Protecting persons in institutions (including residents in government-run nursing homes, and prisoners) from unconstitutional conditions.

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act

Provides for equitable and impartial relief operations, without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, or economic status.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act

(ECOA) Prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or because an applicant receives income from a public assistance program.

Equal Pay Act of 1963

Requires that employers pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of whether the employees are male or female.

Fair Housing Act

(FHA) Prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.

Family and Medical Leave Act

(FMLA) Gives employees the right to take time off from work in order to care for a newborn (or recently adopted) child, or to look after an ill family member.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

(IDEA) Ensuring that the rights of students with disabilities are protected, and that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education.

National Voter Registration Act

(NVRA) Establishes procedures to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for national office.

Older Workers' Benefit Protection Act

Clarifies the protections given to older individuals in regard to employee benefit plans.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Prohibits employment discrimination against female workers who are (or intend to become) pregnant -- including discrimination in hiring, failure to promote, and wrongful termination.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Protects disabled individuals from discrimination by employers and organizations that receive federal financial assistance.

Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

(RLUIPA) Protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws; also protects the religious exercise of inmates and other persons confined to certain institutions.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972

Prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds, to increase educational and athletic opportunities for females in schools and colleges nationwide.

U.S. Code Title 42, Chapter 21 -- Civil Rights

Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code prohibits discrimination against persons based on age, disability, gender, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) in a number of settings -- including education, employment, access to businesses and buildings, federal services, and more. Chapter 21 is where a number of federal acts related to civil rights have been codified -- including the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

U.S. Constitution | Articles | Amendments

The U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1789, outlines the role and operation of government in the United States. Includes links to all articles and amendments, with annotations.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

(VRA) Prohibits the denial or restriction of the right to vote, and forbids discriminatory voting practices nationwide.

(retrieved from

Race Discrimination

Dred Scott v. Sanford (1856)

A major precursor to the Civil War, this controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision denied citizenship and basic rights to all blacks -- whether slave or free.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

This decision allowed the use of "separate but equal" racially segregated accommodations and facilities.

Korematsu v. U.S. (1944)

The Court in this case upheld the conviction of an American of Japanese descent, who had been prosecuted for remaining in California after a 1942 presidential order designating much of the West Coast a "military area" and requiring relocation of most Japanese-Americans from California (among other West Coast states).

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)

This decision held that "racially restrictive covenants" in property deeds are unenforceable. In this case, the "covenants" were terms or obligations in property deeds that limited property rights to Caucasians, excluding members of other races.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

In this landmark case, the Court prohibited racial segregation of public schools.

Brown v. Board of Education II (1955)

This decision quickened the process for implementing the anti-segregation orders issued in "Brown I."

Bailey v. Patterson (1962)

The Court in this case prohibited racial segregation of interstate and intrastate transportation facilities.

Loving v. Virginia (1967)

This decision holds that state laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage are unconstitutional.

Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968)

The Court held in this case that federal law bars all racial discrimination (private or public) in the sale or rental of property.

Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971)

In this case, the Court decided that certain education requirements and intelligence tests used as conditions of employment acted to exclude African American job applicants, did not relate to job performance, and were prohibited.

Lau v. Nichols (1974)

The Court found that a city school system's failure to provide English language instruction to students of Chinese ancestry amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp.  (1977)

In this case, the Court declared that proof of a racially discriminatory intent is required in claim that race was a motivating factor in a land zoning decision.

University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978)

The Court ruled that a public university may take race into account as the sole factor in admissions decisions.

Batson v. Kentucky (1986)

This decision holds that a state denies an African American defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposefully excluded.

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)

In this case, the Court finds that a law school's limited "affirmative action" use of race in admissions is constitutional.

Gender (Sex) Discrimination

Roe v. Wade (1973)

In this landmark case, the Court decided that a woman's right to abortion is part of the constitutional right to privacy.

Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. LaFleur (1974)

Found that Ohio public school mandatory maternity leave rules for pregnant teachers violate constitutional guarantees of due process.

Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986)

Found that a claim of "hostile environment" sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that may be brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Johnson v. Transportation Agency (1987)

The Court decides that a county transportation agency appropriately took into account an employee's sex as one factor in determining whether she should be promoted.

Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992)

In this case, the Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment can form the basis for a valid claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Serv., Inc. (1998)

In this case, the Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment can form the basis for a valid claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth (1998)

Holding that an employee who refuses unwelcome and threatening sexual advances of a supervisor (but suffers no real job consequences) may recover against the employer without showing the employer is at fault for the supervisor's actions.

Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998)

The Court decides that an employer may be liable for sexual discrimination caused by a supervisor, but liability depends on the reasonableness of the employer's conduct, as well as the reasonableness of the plaintiff victim's conduct.

Gay & Lesbian Rights / Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)

The Court holds that a Georgia statute criminalizing same-sex sodomy is constitutional.

Romer v. Evans (1996)

In this case, the Court finds that an amendment to Colorado's constitution, which sought to preclude legal protection of homosexuals' rights, is unconstitutional.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

The Court holds that a Texas statute criminalizing same-sex conduct is unconstitutional.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

The Court held that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to get married, which may not be abridged by state laws.

Religious Freedoms

Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow (2004)

The Court declares that a grade school student's father cannot challenge the school's pledge of allegiance policy as a violation of the child's religious freedom.

Disability Discrimination

Bragdon v. Abbott (1998)

The Court holds that HIV infection qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (1999)

In this case, the Court explains how to determine whether an impairment "substantially limits" a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc. (1999)

The Court clarifies the definition of "disabled" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

(retrieved from