Calif. Assembly acts to protect hate-crime victims |

Calif. Assembly acts to protect hate-crime victims

Cathy Bussewitz
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The state Assembly approved a bill Thursday intended to protect victims of hate crimes by expanding their ability to file lawsuits, a move supporters said was meant to remedy a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

The bill would ban a practice that requires people to sign away their right to a legal challenge.

Sponsors of the bill say many employment contracts and contracts for private schools include a clause requiring victims of harassment to agree to arbitration, rather than taking the employer or school to court.

The bill would exempt hate crimes from those arbitration clauses.

“Victims of hate crimes should never be forced into arbitration simply because they signed an employment or residential contract with fine print that waives their right to seek justice in the courts,” Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a nonprofit group that sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, D-San Diego, said it was prompted by a 2004 development involving a 15-year-old student at a private school in Los Angeles who was bullied and received death threats. His parents withdrew him from the school and relocated after law enforcement suggested it, Saldana said.

But the school publicly disclosed the student’s whereabouts, Saldana said, and the threats resumed. When the parents tried to sue the school, they could not because they had unknowingly signed away that right.

“A young man’s life was forever altered by the actions of his classmates,” Saldana said. “Students in our state, whether they are in public or private school, deserve every protection available to them.”

The bill prompted a heated partisan debate, with Republicans saying the change would be bad for business because it would increase litigation. They said arbitration is a legitimate option and that the state should be trying to relieve pressure on its courts.

“This is the wrong bill at the wrong time for California,” said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, who is running for U.S. Senate. “A national group that ranks the lawsuit climate in this state ranked California 46th in the nation.”

Bill supporters responded by saying the measure was supported by groups representing arbitrators. The bill passed on a party-line vote and now moves to the Senate.

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