Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Governor Signs Weber Bill Strengthening State’s Hate Crime Statutes

“For a right or a protection to have any meaning, you have to have access to the courts where they can be enforced”

SACRAMENTO – Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday authored by Assemblymember Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego) that will protect the rights of victims of hate crimes and civil rights abuses to have their cases heard in court.

It has become a widespread practice in consumer and employment contracting to force individuals to waive their rights to seek legal redress through the courts even when their civil rights have been violated. AB 2617 would prohibit requiring a waiver of any rights under California hate crimes or civil rights laws as a condition of entering into a contract for employment, housing, education or consumer goods and services.

“There is no right without a remedy,” Weber said. “In order for a right or a protection to have any meaning, you have to have access to the courts where they can be enforced. We have passed these laws not only to provide a mechanism of legal redress for victims, but also to send a signal to the rest of society that these acts are not sanctioned, whether committed by an individual or abetted by an institution. Forced arbitration compels victims to submit to proceedings where arbitrators are not even required to follow the state’s civil rights statutes when making decisions that the parties are bound by law to follow.”

The bill emanates from a case of a 15 year-old private school student who received graphic death threats from fellow students due to his perceived sexual orientation.  On the advice of law enforcement, his parents withdrew him from the school and relocated him to a school in a different part of California. The school, however, publicly disclosed the student’s new community and school.  Understandably upset, his parents took legal action to hold the school accountable for abetting the bullying and not disciplining the perpetrators, but a forced arbitration clause buried in the enrollment contract prevented the student from going to court to seek justice under the state’s civil rights statutes.

The student’s father, Lee Caplin, said he, his son and his family are pleased that their experience has resulted in a law that strengthens protections for all Californians.

“This is a great victory,” said Caplin, “This bill gives teeth back to the state’s civil rights and hate crimes laws.”

Caplin, whose father taught law to both John and Robert Kennedy and later served in the Kennedy Administration, said the timing is significant.

“My son noted that the bill signing comes in the same year as the 50th anniversary of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was initiated during the Kennedy era,” he said.

“We have fought long and hard for these protections,” Weber said, “But we are seeing attempts to erode the progress we’ve made, including attempts to subvert voting rights and to shield companies for wrongdoing in hate crimes cases. I am pleased that the Governor saw the wisdom in restoring an individual’s right to have their day in court.”

AB 2617 is supported by Equality California, the ACLU, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the California Chapter of the NAACP and the Consumer Attorneys of California.

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