Class action lawsuits have long been important tools in enforcing civil rights. Sometimes laws and regulations are not enough to force action, and litigation can play an important role in protecting the rights of individuals. From discrimination to unequal treatment and violations of constitutional rights, many class action lawsuits have changed the course of civil rights for Americans. 

These are just a few historic cases that illustrate the importance of class action litigation in the fight for civil rights:

  1. Brown v. Board of Education (1954): This landmark case challenged racial segregation in public schools in the United States. The plaintiffs argued that segregated schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court’s decision declared racial segregation in public education unconstitutional.
  2. Doe v. University of Michigan (1989): A class action lawsuit brought against the University of Michigan challenging its speech code, which prohibited “harassing” or “offensive” speech. The plaintiffs argued that this violated their First Amendment rights to free speech.
  3. LULAC v. INS (1990): The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) brought a class action lawsuit against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on behalf of immigrants who had been subjected to unlawful arrest and detention, without access to due process.
  4. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (2011): This case involved female employees of Wal-Mart who claimed that the company’s policies and practices led to gender discrimination in pay and promotion. The plaintiffs sought to certify a class of over a million women. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled against class certification, stating that the plaintiffs did not meet the requirements for a class action.
  5. Floyd v. City of New York (2013): This case challenged the New York City Police Department’s practice of stop-and-frisk, alleging that it disproportionately targeted racial minorities. The lawsuit claimed that the policy violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The case ultimately led to a court-appointed monitor overseeing changes to the NYPD’s practices.
  6. Disabled Rights Action Committee v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (1991): This case focused on accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The plaintiffs argued that the transportation authority’s failure to provide accessible public transportation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  7. Johnson v. California (2005): This case dealt with racial segregation and violence in California’s prison system. The lawsuit alleged that the state’s practice of racially segregating prisoners in double cells led to higher rates of violence against African American inmates.

These examples highlight the diversity of issues and contexts in which class action civil rights lawsuits have been brought. While the U.S. has made strides in protecting the civil rights of our citizens, class action lawsuits will continue to be an important tool to protect them as the country evolves.
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