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In 2012, the Office of the Attorney General represented the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission) in City of Merced v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission. After an administrative hearing, the Commission held that the City of Merced Fire Department wrongfully rejected an applicant for employment as a firefighter due to a perceived disability in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The City had argued that it did not need to accommodate the applicant because firefighters were required to be 100% able to do all duties without accommodation. The Commission determined that the City's defense that the applicant could not perform his firefighter duties without endangering himself or others was without merit because the applicant could safely perform the job with minor accommodation. In fact, the applicant had been a firefighter with another agency for several years before applying with the City. The City challenged the Commission's decision in the Superior Court, and after losing there, filed an appeal. The City eventually settled the case while the appeal was pending.
In 2008, the Legislature created the California Commission on Disability Access (Commission) to promote disability access in California through dialogue and collaboration with stakeholders including, but not limited to, the disability and business communities as well as all levels of government. The California Commission on Disability Access is a 17-member independent commission consisting of 11 public members and six ex officio nonvoting members. Under Government Code section 8299.01, the Attorney General, or her designee, is an ex officio nonvoting member of the Commission. Since its inception, a member of the Civil Rights Enforcement Section has served and continues to serve on the Commission. In this capacity, our office regularly attends Commission meetings and actively participants in robust discussions on the many ways that access for Californians with disabilities can be improved in both the public and private sectors.
Between 2006 and 2009, the Office of the Attorney General entered into significant settlements with nine different companies that constructed apartment complexes that failed to comply with state and federal accessibility laws. These apartment complexes were located in the cities of Napa, Stockton, Bakersfield, Ventura, Vacaville, Woodland, and Redding. Common allegations in the complaints filed against these companies included failure to design and construct the subject properties so that the public and common use portions of the properties were readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and failure to design and construct the ground-floor units of the subject properties in accordance with the standards for accessibility provided by California regulations. The settlements in each of these cases required that the companies comply with state and federal design and construction requirements in the construction of any future buildings, correct deficiencies found by the California Attorney General's Office, and pay civil penalties and attorneys' fees and costs.
In 2007, the Office of the Attorney General entered into settlements with Kern and Santa Cruz counties regarding accessibility to polling places, in the actions entitled People v. County of Santa Cruz, et. al. and People v. County of Kern, et. al. Each settlement required the counties to improve the accessibility of their polling sites over a multi-year period by taking measures to locate and select more polling sites that comply with state and federal disability access laws or using temporary accessibility measures such as temporary ramps. The settlements also required the counties to employ a disability access consultant to oversee the obligations of the settlement agreement, and provide additional training on selection and setup of polling sites on election days. The settlements resolved complaints filed by the Attorney General's office after it discovered that polling sites in Kern and Santa Cruz counties had barriers that could make access to the polling sites difficult, hazardous or impossible for voters with disabilities. The settlements remained in effect until March 31, 2011.
In 2007, the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Californians for Disability Rights v. Mervyn's Department Stores, Inc., a case on appeal in the California First Appellate District. The Attorney General's brief was filed in support of Californians for Disability Rights, who sued Mervyn's for maintaining some of its merchandise on movable racks that were placed so closely together that persons who use wheelchairs could not access the merchandise. Asserting that it was a self-service store, Mervyn's also reportedly did not provide store clerk assistance to help access the inaccessible merchandise. After a trial, the court held in favor of Mervyn's finding that the store's placement of the merchandise did not violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), California's Unruh Civil Rights Act or California's Disabled Persons Act. The Attorney General's friend-of-the-court brief argued that the trial court erred in applying federal law standards i.e. the ADA, to the two California statutes mentioned above. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court order, and, addressing only the claims predicated on the ADA, held that under federal law, the retailer must remove architectural barriers to access where such removal is "readily achievable" and, if not readily achievable because of great difficulty or expense, must adopt alternative methods for making its merchandise available to individuals with disablities by the provision of customer assistance or other means. The Court of Appeal did not decide the issue regarding the purely state law claims that the Attorney General's Office raised in its brief, but remanded those and other issues to the trial court for further proceedings.
On April 29, 2014, in an unpublished California Court of Appeal decision in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, successfully advocated for an employee's right to be free from disability discrimination. The case arose from the Fair Employment and Housing Commission's (Commission) administrative decision finding that the employer unlawfully terminated an employee based on a perceived disability resulting from a knee injury and, further, failed to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination from occurring, all in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The Court of Appeal held that the Commission's findings were supported by substantial evidence. In its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded that the employer failed to meet its obligation to individually assess whether medical restrictions placed on the employee prevented her from performing her essential job functions or, alternatively, whether she was actually performing those functions. The Court agreed that the employer could not avoid that obligation on the grounds that the employer and employee had shared responsibility for the breakdown in the interactive process related to the separate issue of possible job-related accommodations.
In an unpublished California Court of Appeal decision issued on January 19, 2012, in Terra Linda Farms, Inc. v. California Fair Employment and Housing Com'n, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission), successfully defended a woman's right to be free from retaliation in the workplace when reporting sexual harassment, as well as enforced an employer's obligation to take reasonable steps necessary to prevent retaliation from occurring. The case arose from the Commission's administrative decision finding that the employer retaliated against two employees who complained when they were subjected to inappropriate sexually harassing conduct. The Attorney General was also successful in prevailing over the employer's assertion that the women's claims were barred by federal law under the National Labor Relations Act.
In a decision published on July 15, 2009, by the California Court of Appeal in Sasco Elec. v. California Fair Employment and Housing Com'n (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 533, the Attorney General, representing the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission), successfully vindicated a woman's right to be free from pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The case arose from the Commission's administrative decision finding that the employer discriminated against the employee by terminating her when it learned about her pregnancy. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeal upheld the Commission's decision, finding that the employer had violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act by terminating the employee. The Court of Appeal also affirmed the Commission's awards of emotional distress damages, an administrative monetary fine, and back pay between the date of the discharge and the date the employee's child was born. With respect to the award of back pay, the Court of Appeal held that the employer had failed to prove that had the employee become disabled during her pregnancy, the employer could not have accommodated her disability by, for example, transferring her to a different position.
On September 29, 2004, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission), successfully obtained a published decision from the California Court of Appeal in California Fair Employment and Housing Com'n v. Gemini Aluminum Corp. (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 1004. That decision affirmed the Commission's administrative decision finding that an employer had violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act when it refused to provide a religious accommodation to a Jehovah's witness who sought leave from his employment to attend a religious convention sponsored by his church, and thereafter, fired him after he attended the convention following the denial of his leave request.
On April 9, 2002, the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the California Court of Appeal in Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit supporting an employer's liability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for the harassment of an employee by a client or customer. After the Court of Appeal initially rejected the argument that the FEHA applied to a client or customer's harassing conduct, the Legislature enacted legislation clarifying that the FEHA intended to protect employees from such harassment. After the matter had been remanded by the Supreme Court to consider the legislation's affect, the Court of Appeal, in a published decision (Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 318), reversed its earlier decision subsequently holding that customer or client harassment of employees was actionable under the FEHA.
On March 21, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the California Supreme Court in Colmenares v. Braemar Country Club arguing that California's protection prohibiting discrimination based upon a physical disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is broader than under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. On February 20, 2003, the California Supreme Court agreed, holding that the FEHA defines "physical disability" to limit a major life activity, but does not require the "substantial limitation" standard imposed by the federal ADA. (Colmenares v. Braemar Country Club, Inc. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1019, 1030.)
In May 2001, the Attorney General joined in a friend-of-the-court brief authored by the Attorney General of Missouri filed with the United States Supreme Court in Equal Opportunity Employment Commission v. Waffle House, Inc. supporting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) right to bring individual discrimination enforcement actions, which can include recovery of back pay and damages, despite private employment arbitration clauses. On January 15, 2002, the Supreme Court agreed, holding that private agreements to arbitrate employment discrimination claims do not bar the EEOC from bringing its own enforcement actions. (E.E.O.C. v. Waffle House, Inc. (2002) 534 U.S. 279, 297.)
Fisher v. University of Texas. On October 30, 2015, the Attorney General’s Office filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the State of California in the latest case to address the consideration of race in university admissions decision-making. This is the second time the Supreme Court will consider this challenge to the University of Texas' admissions procedure, which considers race among a number of other diversity factors. In 2013, the Court reversed a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' in favor of the University and sent the case back to the Court of Appeals for consideration under a less deferential application of the strict scrutiny standard of review. The Fifth Circuit again affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of the University and the matter was again taken up by the Supreme Court. California's current brief – like one it filed in 2012 –encourages the Court to continue to recognize that states have a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that derive from having a diverse student body at their public universities and colleges and that such an interest can justify the consideration of race as part of a holistic admissions plan. The brief also argues that the compelling state interest in achieving the educational benefits of diversity also justifies consideration of race to ensure that the students of color a college or university admits represent a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. Attorney General Harris filed a similar brief on August 13, 2012, when this matter was first before the Supreme Court. By participating in this case, Attorney General Harris sought to encourage the Supreme Court to reaffirm its important ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) 539 U.S. 306 that diversity in higher education is a compelling governmental interest that can justify the use of race-conscious admissions standards. On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, upheld the University of Texas’ admissions procedure as lawful under the Equal Protection Clause.
Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), et. al. On August 30, 2013, California filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the United States Supreme Court arguing that a provision of Michigan's constitution that is virtually identical to California's Proposition 209 (Cal. Const. art. I, § 31(a)) is unconstitutional. The States of Hawai'i, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia, joined the brief. Michigan's constitution, like Proposition 209, bars "preferential treatment . . . on the basis of race, . . . color, ethnicity, or national origin" in public education. California's multi-state brief argued that the Michigan constitutional provision violated the Equal Protection Clause of the federal Constitution, pursuant to Washington v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1 (1982) 458 U.S. 457 (Seattle) and Hunter v. Erickson (1969) 393 U.S. 385 (Hunter). Hunter and Seattle establish that the Equal Protection Clause may be violated by a discriminatory restructuring of governmental decision-making in a way that places a "special burden" on specific groups. The brief authored by California asserted that Michigan's constitutional amendment imposed such a burden on the adoption of constitutionally-permissible race-conscious admissions plans, which primarily benefit students of color. The brief pointed out that adoption of such a plan would require a state constitutional amendment, while policies considering nonracial diversity factors could be approved by admissions committees or university officials and governing boards. On April 22, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, rejected the challenge to the Michigan constitutional provision. The plurality repudiated a broad interpretation of the Hunter-Seattle doctrine that would apply strict scrutiny in actions that have a racial focus and that make it more difficult for certain racial minorities than for other groups to achieve legislation in their interests.
Information about the Attorney General's initiatives addressing equal access to elementary and secondary schools may be found at the webpage of the Bureau of Children's Justice.
The Attorney General maintains Rapid Response Protocol, pdf to assist in the investigation, identification, arrest, prosecution and conviction of those who commit hate crimes. The protocol ensures an immediate deployment of California Department of Justice resources when a hate crime occurs involving serious injury, death or significant destruction of property. Department resources to be made available to assist local and federal law enforcement agencies include: forensic services, intelligence specialists, profilers, criminal and civil rights attorneys, and support for victims of hate crimes.
The Attorney General has available brochures in nine languages on how to identify hate crimes, how to report hate crimes and the services available to victims of hate crimes.
The Attorney General also publishes an annual Hate Crime In California Report assessing the number of hate crime events, hate crime offenses, hate crime victims, and hate crime suspects. The 2016 report highlights hate crime trends, including the most common types of hate crimes broken down by protected class, as well as by county and city. The Report puts these statistics in historical perspective by providing trend information on the number and types of hate crimes over the past ten years. More information, including an analysis of the number and types of hate crimes over the past decade, can be found on the Attorney General’s OpenJustice website.
On June 22, 2015, the Attorney General successfully obtained a court order invalidating a proposed ballot measure for the so-called "Sodomite Suppression Act." As the Attorney General has stated, the proposal which "seeks to legalize discrimination and vigilantism," "not only threatens public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible, and has no place in a civil society."
In June 2010, the Attorney General prevailed in an action filed by the Attorney General under the Ralph Act (Civ. Code, § 51.7), in a case involving the assault of a Latino man. Following trial, the court found that the defendants, who had used racial and ethnic epithets during their assault, had violated the Ralph Act because their bias against the victim was a substantial factor in the assault. The Attorney General obtained substantial civil penalties for the victim, as well as attorneys' fees and costs against the defendants.
On August 9, 2002, the Attorney General filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in Virginia v. Black supporting the constitutionality of Virginia's "anti-cross-burning" statute, which prohibited the burning of a cross on public or private property, if done with the intent to intimidate any person. On April 7, 2003, the Supreme Court issued its decision, holding that a state statute that prohibits cross burning committed with the intent to intimidate does not violate the First Amendment. This holding is consistent with the position advanced in the Attorney General's brief. However, the Court also held that Virginia's statute is unconstitutional because it contains a provision that treats any cross-burning as prima facie evidence of intent to intimidate.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is unlawful to refuse to sell or rent housing because of an individual's race, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. In 2014, the California Attorney General on behalf of the State of California, joined 14 other states, in an friend-of-the-court brief filed with the United States Supreme Court in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (2015) 576 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2507, supporting the right of housing discrimination victims to bring disparate impact claims where a practice has a disproportionate adverse impact on a protected class of persons. The brief argued that disparate impact claims serve an indispensable role in combatting more hidden forms of intentional discrimination. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that housing discrimination victims are entitled to bring disparate impact claims under the FHA where policies or practices have a disproportionate adverse impact on protected classes without needing to establish the property owner's or manager's intent to discriminate.
In 2010, in People v. Minh Development and Management, LLC., et al., the Attorney General successfully obtained a stipulated judgment against property owners in this housing discrimination case. The Attorney General's civil lawsuit alleged that the property owners discriminated against prospective tenants on the basis of race, ethnicity and/or national origin in violation of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). In addition to paying $150,000 in civil penalties and attorneys' fees, the property owners were required to implement various rental practice reforms, including the provision of employee training on California housing laws, all subject to third-party monitoring for compliance.
Between 2006 and 2009, the Attorney General successfully obtained settlements against nine companies that had constructed apartment complexes that failed to comply with state and federal accessibility laws. The settlements in each of these cases required that the companies comply with state and federal design and construction requirements in the construction of any future buildings, would correct the accessibility deficiencies found by the California Attorney General's Office, and pay civil penalties and attorneys' fees and costs.
In Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. 1105 Alta Loma Road Apts. (2007) 154 Cal.App.4th 1273, the Attorney General successfully obtained a published decision on behalf of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). In its decision, the Court of Appeal rejected a landlord's argument that DFEH's housing discrimination claim arising out of a tenant's disability was barred as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation based upon the actions and statements the landlord had made in conjunction with prior eviction proceedings. The Court of Appeal held that the DFEH's complaint arose out of the landlord's alleged actions in failing to accommodate the tenant's disability, rather than the landlord's communications made in connection with removing the residential units from the rental market.
On September 9, 2004, the Office of the Attorney General secured a published decision from the California Court of Appeal in Auburn Woods I Homeowners Assn. v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission. (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 1578. In this case, a homeowners association refused to grant an accommodation from its "no dogs" rule to a couple who required a companion animal, a dog, to treat their clinical depression. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court that had overturned the Commission's decision, holding that the homeowners association violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act by refusing to grant the request for an accommodation. This was the first case decided under California law to hold that a homeowners association may have to modify its "no dogs" rule to reasonably accommodate a person with a mental disability by allowing that person to keep a companion animal in his unit.
On September 9, 2004, the Office of the Attorney General secured a published decision from the California Court of Appeal in Auburn Woods I Homeowners Assn. v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission. In this case, a homeowners association refused to grant an accommodation from its "no dogs" rule to a couple who required a companion animal, a dog, to treat their clinical depression. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court that had overturned the Commission's decision holding that the homeowners association violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act by refusing to grant the request for an accommodation. This is the first case decided under California law to hold that a homeowners association may have to modify its "no dogs" rule to reasonably accommodate a person with a mental disability by allowing that person to keep a companion animal in his unit.
The Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting immigrant communities, public safety and the basic rights of all Californians through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws and consumer protections and by promoting trust and cooperation between immigrants and law enforcement.
Over the last several years, California has taken significant strides to protect immigrants, passing a broad range of laws to expand and uphold the civil and labor rights of immigrants, to equalize access to higher education, and to define the role local law enforcement agencies may play in the enforcement of federal immigration law. In its brief, "California Blueprint: Two Decades of Pro-Immigrant Transformation," the California Immigrant Policy Center highlights the broad range of state laws enacted since 1996.
The California Attorney General, as the state’s top law enforcement officer, is uniquely charged with overseeing effective implementation of the laws affecting California law enforcement agencies. Summaries of select laws enacted in recent years appear below.
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City and County of San Francisco v. Trump. On March 29, 2017, Attorney General Becerra filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case City and County of San Francisco v. Trump, et al., supporting San Francisco in its challenge to President Trump's executive order targeting “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Like the County of Santa Clara, San Francisco challenges President Trump's threats to withdraw federal funds from states and local jurisdictions that the Administration deems to be “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Attorney General Becerra's brief highlights California's interest in protecting state laws and policies that ensure public safety and protect the constitutional rights of residents. On April 25, 2017, a federal judge issued a ruling in this matter, and in the related matter of the County of Santa Clara v. Trump, that put a nationwide halt on the federal government's ability to enforce its threat to block cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement from receiving federal funds.
Challenging Trump's Travel Ban
State of Hawaii v. Trump. On April 20, 2017, Attorney General Becerra joined a coalition of 17 states filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to support the preliminary injunction obtained by the state of Hawaii which bars enforcement of unconstitutional provisions of the Trump Administration's revised executive order on travel. On May 15, 2017, a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on the Constitutionality of Trump's Muslim travel ban. The judges will decide whether to uphold a Hawaii judge's decision in March that blocked the ban.
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Office of the Attorney General, Univision LA, and SEIU CA Partner on Statewide Public Forums on Immigration. In the summer of 2016, the Attorney General's Civil Rights Enforcement Section hosted a series of statewide public forums in partnership with Univision Los Angeles, Service Employees International Union of California, and iAmerica to provide Californians applying for U.S. Citizenship with information on the application process and how to avoid immigration services fraud. The forums were hosted in eight California counties: Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus. The statewide public forums provided community members an opportunity to receive information about the citizenship process, set up an individual appointment for free assistance with citizenship applications, and hear from the Attorney General's Office on how individuals can avoid being a victim of immigration services scams and wage theft.
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The Attorney General's Office routinely uses consumer alerts and brochures to inform immigrants about their legal rights and warn Californians about scams and other potential threats.
Consumer Alert on Immigration Consultants. The Attorney General's Office issued a consumer alert advising individuals in need of help with their immigration status to be careful with whom they consult. Only lawyers licensed to practice in state or federal courts can give legal advice. Lawyers or representatives accredited by the immigration court can represent individuals in immigration court. In California, notaries public, paralegals, accredited representatives and immigration consultants are not necessarily lawyers.
The organizations and materials listed below are provided to serve as resources for the public and do not indicate an endorsement by the Attorney General's Office, nor do they constitute legal advice.
Know Your Rights - General Information
Living in the U.S. in violation of immigration laws is not itself a crime. It is a criminal misdemeanor to enter the U.S. without examination or inspection by immigration officers or to try to enter the U.S. by concealing or falsifying material facts, including immigration documents. Many immigrants, however, enter the country legally, but overstay their visa. These individuals have committed a violation of federal civil immigration law, which is subject to civil penalties (typically deportation), not criminal penalties.
As California’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Becerra knows that trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve is vital to effective policing. To strengthen this trust, Attorney General Becerra is committed to increasing fairness and transparency throughout the criminal justice system by effectively implementing California laws critical to eliminating bias in policing and reducing unnecessary uses of force; promoting evidence-based approaches and trainings to improve police practices across California; and investigating agencies for civil pattern or practice violations when there is evidence to suggest systemic police misconduct.
Sponsored Legislation and Implementation of California Laws
AB 284: Officer-Involved Shootings. This legislative session, Attorney General Becerra is sponsoring Assembly Bill 284, an historic bill which would require the Department of Justice to conduct a study of peace officer-involved shootings resulting in death or serious injury that occurred in California between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2016. Attorney General Becerra aims to reduce uses of force when possible, and improve safety for both community members and officers. A focused evaluation of officer-involved shootings from across the state will allow the DOJ to identify the nature and circumstances of when and how officers use their firearms, and make sure that appropriate training, policies, procedures, and oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place to prevent unnecessary uses of force. The statewide evaluation of officer-involved shootings contemplated by AB 284 will mark the first study of its kind in the country. As such, it has the potential to benefit communities and law enforcement agencies in California and around the nation.
AB 953: The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015. In October 2015, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 953, known as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, with the purpose of eliminating racial and identity profiling in policing, and providing greater transparency in law enforcement. The Act includes requirements regarding a number of significant law enforcement issues, including:
The Attorney General’s Office has the responsibility for writing regulations to implement the collection and reporting of data on “stops” made by law enforcement officers, and for establishing and working with the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board to produce the annual report required by the Act. The data collected through this Act will be reported to the California Department of Justice (DOJ). Further information can be found on the AB 953 page.
Legal Actions Taken by the California Department of Justice
Civil Rights Investigation into Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Bakersfield Police Department. On December 22, 2016, the Attorney General’s Office opened separate civil pattern or practice investigations into the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department. California Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys from the Civil Rights Enforcement Section will focus on allegations involving police practices and accountability, among other related issues, within both the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department. The Attorney General’s decision to investigate the two law enforcement agencies was informed by complaints by individuals and community organizations, as well as by media reports, which allege use of excessive force and other serious misconduct. Publically available data sources concerning officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody were also reviewed and considered over the course of more than a year. Pattern or practice investigations are civil, not criminal investigations.
Los Angeles Police Protective League v. City of Los Angeles. In July 2014, in the case, Los Angeles Police Protective League v. City of Los Angeles, the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) exercise of managerial discretion to issue Special Order 7. Special Order 7 prohibits officers from invoking the fixed 30-day impound statute for vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers in certain circumstances. Special Order 7 was implemented to provide a clear directive to officers on how to handle the various discretionary Vehicle Code impound statutes and to address allegations of disparate treatment and other concerns raised by the city's immigrant community. The Los Angeles Police Protective League challenged Special Order 7, principally arguing that it unlawfully deprived individual officers of discretion to impound a vehicle as allowed under the Vehicle Code. The Attorney General's brief argued that the LAPD's decision to exercise vehicle impound discretion at the managerial level, thereby limiting individual officer's discretion, is a lawful exercise of the LAPD's authority and is consistent with California law enforcement tradition. The brief further argued that to maximize public safety, law enforcement agencies must retain the authority to evaluate the unique needs of their particular communities and officers, and determine when the issuance of discretion-limiting directives are appropriate. On December 26, 2014, the California Court of Appeal issued a decision concluding that Special Order 7 is within the broad discretion of the police chief, and that neither the Protective League nor the individual taxpayer who filed the action had standing to challenge the policy.
Civil Rights Investigation into the Maywood Police Department. On July 21, 2009, the Attorney General’s Office secured a court order compelling the City of Maywood to implement critical use-of-force and related reforms within its Police Department. The order capped a comprehensive investigation of the Maywood Police Department by the Attorney General that uncovered patterns of excessive use of force, and a conspicuous absence of meaningful articulation of probable cause to justify arrests and searches and reasonable suspicion to detain members of the public. In March 2009, the Attorney General issued a public report regarding this investigation and the Attorney General's findings. Effective July 1, 2010, the City of Maywood elected to disband its police department and contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for police services.
People of the State of California, etc. v. City of Riverside. In the late spring of 1999, the Attorney General launched a civil investigation of the Riverside Police Department after concluding that the four officers who were involved in the shooting death of Tyisha Miller in Riverside, California, should not be criminally charged. After a nearly two-year civil rights investigation into the practices of the Riverside Police Department, the parties filed a complaint and stipulated judgment in the case entitled People of the State of California, etc. v. City of Riverside. This was the first consent decree to reform a local police department secured by a state attorney general under state law. The judgment, which remained in effect for a period of five years, required the Riverside Police Department to implement reforms in the areas of training, supervision, and accountability. The City of Riverside was required to pay the cost of a consultant to assist the Attorney General in monitoring compliance with the terms of the judgment. On March 2, 2006, the Attorney General, after concluding that the Riverside Police Department had fulfilled the conditions of the judgment, requested and received formal approval from the court for the judgment's dissolution.
How to File a Complaint
The mission of the Civil Rights Enforcement Section at the California Department of Justice includes assisting the Attorney General on civil rights issues in the area of police practices. If you have a complaint against a police officer or sheriff's deputy, you should first contact the local law enforcement agency. Each law enforcement agency in the state is required by Penal Code section 832.5 to establish a procedure to investigate complaints. You can obtain a written description of the procedures from the law enforcement agency. If unable to resolve your complaint with the law enforcement agency, contact the district attorney's office or the grand jury in the county that has jurisdiction. If your complaint involves alleged criminal misconduct and the local agencies do not act upon it, you may write to the Attorney General's Office.
The Office of the Attorney General maintains a policy and complaint form [en Español] governing the review of complaints received by the Department of Justice that allege police misconduct by local law enforcement agencies or their employees. Under that policy, complaints received by this office from complainants who have exhausted the local review process will be referred to both the Criminal Law Division and the Civil Rights Enforcement Section for review and appropriate action.
Native American Heritage Commission v. County of Inyo, et al. On January 8, 2015, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Native American Heritage Commission, filed an action to force the County of Inyo to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as it applies to Native American archeological and cultural resources. The petition alleges that the County approved a construction project for a small-scale solar energy facility in the Owens Valley without first completing testing that would have determined whether archeological sites within the project area contain sensitive Native American historical and cultural resources requiring a more thorough review and analysis. The petition further alleges that the mitigation measures that were adopted by the County were not adequate to address the harm the project could cause to these resources. CRES settled this lawsuit in November 2016, and the County agreed to enact a tribal consultation policy, undertaking a training of County officials, and meet and confer with the tribes about development projects.
Native American Heritage Commission v. Padre Dam Municipal Water District. In June 2010, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Native American Heritage Commission, filed a legal action seeking to prevent a water district from constructing a pump station, a 2.5-million gallon reservoir, and flow control facility on a Native American sanctified cemetery and ceremonial site in San Diego County. Under a July 12, 2012 settlement agreement, the Water District agreed not to build the project, and transferred the land to a Native American tribal entity.
Native American Heritage Commission v. Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency. On March 23, 2006, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Native American Heritage Commission, filed suit seeking to block construction of a toll road in Orange and San Diego counties through the indigenous Village of Panhé, a major village of the Juaneño/Acjachemen people, that is still used for reburials and other ceremonial activities. Because an adverse Coastal Commission decision prevented the project from going forward, the case was dismissed without prejudice, but was reinstated in 2013 when the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (“TCA”) and its Board of Directors approved the initial 5.5-mile portion of the road, purportedly as a separate project. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board then denied a necessary permit. On appeal from that decision, the State Water Resources Control Board remanded the matter back to the regional board with directions to provide the factual and legal basis for its decision. The Regional Board again denied the permit and the Transportation Corridor Agency again sought review by the State Board. That petition for review was deemed dismissed by operation of law without review on July 14, 2015. Pursuant to an agreement with the Regional Board, the Transportation Corridor Agency has until February 15, 2016, to file suit challenging that dismissal. Our lawsuit has been stayed indefinitely pending the resolution of the water permit issues. In the fall of 2016, the Attorney General’s Office worked with all the parties to create and finalize a global settlement of this matter. The settlement created an avoidance area where the TCA agrees to never construct anything, and this prohibition continues even when the other conditions of the agreement have been fulfilled. On January 19, 2017, the court executed the parties’ stipulation, formally settling the matter and incorporating the NAHC as part of the group monitoring compliance.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio et al v. Hodges.
West Alabama Women’s Center v. Miller. On May 1, 2017, California wrote and filed a multistate friend of the court brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of plaintiffs and appellees in West Alabama Women’s Center v. Miller, No. 16-17296. The brief was joined by fifteen other Attorneys General. At issue is the constitutionality of an Alabama law that effectively criminalizes standard medical procedures, the safest and most common method of second-trimester abortion, by requiring an unnecessary medical procedure that could actually risk a woman’s health. The district court held that there was no medically sound method to perform this additional procedure and that the practical effect of the regulation would make the standard procedure unavailable to women in Alabama. As such, the court held that the law violated a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The multi-state brief highlights the States’ interest in protecting women’s access to constitutional reproductive healthcare, and the particular importance of protecting access to second-trimester abortion services. The brief made two main points: (1) a State’s regulation of abortion procedures cannot stand if there is uncertainty about whether a standard, safe procedure continues to be available to all women; and (2) the district court properly applied longstanding Supreme Court precedent to determine that the statute imposed an undue burden on abortion access.
Zubik, et al. v. Burwell, et al.On February 17, 2016, California filed a multi-state friend of the court brief in support of the federal government’s defense of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Zubik, et al. v. Burwell, et al., U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 14-1418. The ACA provides an accommodation for religious nonprofit organizations that object to its requirement that employer-provided health insurance plans contain coverage for preventative healthcare, including contraception. Through this accommodation, these organizations can simply opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their employees by informing their insurance company or the federal government of their objection to this coverage. If an organization does opt out, the insurer will then provide contraceptive coverage directly to employees at the insurance companies own expense; however, several nonprofit religious organizations filed suit against the federal government arguing that this opt-out accommodation violates their religious beliefs. The friend of the court brief argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should not be interpreted in a way that defeats the essential purpose of the ACA regarding its preventative contraceptive healthcare coverage. As the brief notes, access to contraceptives is not only essential for public health, but is consistent with the intent of Congress to ensure that all covered employees have access to no-cost preventive care, free of logistical and administrative barriers. These burdens would fall hardest on women with the fewest informational and financial resources to overcome them. On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court did not make a decision, but rather sent the matter back to the lower courts so that the parties could negotiate a solution that would accommodate petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.
Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. On January 4, 2016, California and several other states joined a multi-state friend of the court brief authored by the State of New York in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Supreme Court Case No. 15-274. The case involves whether two provisions of a Texas law are unconstitutional because they impose an undue burden on access to abortion services. Those provisions require (1) that all abortion clinics in Texas comply with standards applicable to ambulatory surgical centers; and (2) that any physician performing an abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the location where the procedure is performed. The district court below enjoined enforcement of the challenged provisions because it determined that, as a factual matter, the provisions would not only close all but eight of Texas’ more than forty then-existing abortion clinics, but also was highly unlikely to increase the safety of abortion procedures. The Fifth Circuit reversed this decision, and a multi-state brief filed in the Supreme Court argued that the Fifth Circuit decision was incorrect because it refused to consider whether and to what extent laws that restrict abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health actually serve the government’s interest in promoting health, and, further, that the undue burden standard forbids abortion regulations that purport to promote women’s health but actually fail to do so. On June 27, 2016, in a 5-3 opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit, holding that the two Texas provisions place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and therefore violate the Constitution. The opinion is a strong reaffirmation of the Court’s adherence to the undue burden standard.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. On October 23, 2013, California and several other states joined a multi-state friend of the court brief authored by California to support the federal government’s defense of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraception coverage requirement in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court Case No. 13-354. The ACA required that most employers provide employees with access to preventive healthcare benefits and services, including contraception. Certain for-profit employers, like Hobby Lobby stores, opposed this coverage requirement and sought to prohibit women employees from seeking this care because of religious beliefs. The Supreme Court in its decision allowed closely-held for-profit corporations to be exempt from the contraception coverage requirement. It was the first time that the Court held that for-profit corporation’s held religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1973. The friend of the court brief argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should not be interpreted in a way that defeats the essential purpose of the ACA regarding its preventative contraceptive healthcare coverage. As the brief notes, access to contraceptives is not only essential for public health, but is consistent with the intent of Congress to ensure that all covered employees have access to no-cost preventive care, free of logistical and administrative barriers. These burdens would fall hardest on women with the fewest informational and financial resources to overcome them.
McCullen v. Coakley. In November 2013, the Attorney General joined a multi-state amicus brief filed with the United States Supreme Court that supported a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive health care facilities against a First Amendment challenge. The Massachusetts law prohibited anyone from being within 35 feet of the entrances or driveways of health care facilities (other than hospitals) where abortions are offered or performed, with certain limited exceptions. The brief argued that the buffer zone law is a reasonable time, place and manner restriction, especially in light of Massachusetts' prior unsuccessful experience with narrower restrictions. The Supreme Court disagreed, unanimously holding that the law violated the First Amendment. The Supreme Court's decision is entitled McCullen v. Coakley, 124 S.Ct. 2518 (2014).
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of all people. Recognizing that discrimination has no place in our society, Attorney General Becerra is fighting to protect transgender students and adults across the nation, and strictly enforcing the recently enacted California law that prohibits state-funded travel to states that discriminate against LBGTQ communities. In Congress, Becerra was a proud member of the LGBT Caucus and vocal supporter of marriage equality. In 1996, he was one of just 67 Congressional members to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act. As Attorney General of California, he continues to champion the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Implementing AB 1887, State-Funded Travel Restrictions
AB 1887, State-Funded Travel Restrictions. AB 1887, codified in Government Code section 11139.8, prohibits California from using public resources to fund or sponsor travel to states which authorize discrimination, or repeal existing state or local protections against discrimination, based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. This law also requires the Attorney General to develop, maintain, and post on the office’s Internet web site a current list of states that are subject to this travel restriction.
States Subject to AB 1887’s Travel Prohibition
The following states are currently subject to California’s ban on state-funded and state-sponsored travel:
For more information, please visit Prohibition on State-Funded and State-Sponsored Travel to State with Discriminatory Laws (Assembly Bill No. 1887).
Selected Legal Actions Taken by the California Department of Justice
Fulcher v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. On June 21, 2017, the California Attorney General’s Office joined a multi-state amicus brief in support of transgender health care in an appeal to the Federal Circuit. At issue in the case is whether the Department of Veterans Affairs must undertake rulemaking to amend a regulation that explicitly excludes sex reassignment surgery from the medical benefits provided to veterans because the exclusion violates the Equal Protection Clause and/or is arbitrary and capricious. The VA provides the same surgeries to non-transgender veterans for the treatment of other conditions, and provides pre- and post-operative care to transgender veterans who undergo surgery elsewhere, with no explanation for these differences. California has been a leader in ensuring equal access to healthcare, and providing healthcare for transgender residents and was proud to join other states in protecting the healthcare rights of transgender individuals in this case.
G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board. On May 16, 2017 the California Attorney General’s Office joined a friend of the court brief in support of transgender students in an appeal in the Fourth Circuit. In G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, a high school student known as G.G., sued the Gloucester County (Va.) School Board after it adopted a policy requiring students to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender assigned to the student at birth, rather than the gender with which the student identifies. G.G. was assigned as female at birth, but identifies as a male, and therefore wished to use the boys’ restroom. The brief highlights that public safety of students is paramount and will not suffer if transgender people are treated fairly. In fact, the school district’s speculation is contrary to the actual experience of States like California that have strong protections for transgender students, specifically with respect to the use of restrooms at schools.
Last year, the Obama Administration issued guidance that federal law protects the rights of transgender students to use school bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The Fourth Circuit relied on this guidance when it originally ruled in favor of G.G.’s case. The school board appealed the decision to the U.S. States Supreme Court. In February, while the case was pending appeal, the Trump Administration revoked President Obama’s guidance, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to send the case back to the Fourth Circuit for further consideration.
United States v. North Carolina and Carcano v. McCrory; & State of Texas v. United States. On July 28, 2016, the California Attorney General’s Office joined friend-of-the-court briefs in two cases supporting transgender rights. The briefs challenge state laws denying transgender people access to single-sex bathrooms and similar facilities in schools and workplaces consistent with their gender identity. Specifically, California joined nine other states in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of North Carolina in United States v. North Carolina and Carcano v. McCrory, supporting the United States and the private plaintiffs in these two related cases challenging North Carolina’s H.B. 2, the so-called “bathroom bill.” The Attorney General also joined 11 states in filing an amicus brief in State of Texas v. United States, in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, to support federal guidance that discrimination based on gender identity constitutes unlawful discrimination based on sex and that schools risk losing Title IX-linked funding unless they permit students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity.
The two friend of the court briefs assert that anti-discrimination laws, like those adopted in California protecting LGBTQ individuals, have enhanced public safety, not detracted from it. For example, California schools are required by state law to permit students to use single-sex facilities consistent with their gender identity. Los Angeles Unified School District (USD), San Francisco USD, Sacramento City USD, and Riverside USD have had similar policies in place for many years to protect the rights of transgender students and none of these school districts have reported any incidents or problems with the policies
Hollingsworth v. Perry. The California Attorney General’s Office has been on the forefront of championing marriage equality and the fundamental civil rights of same-sex couples. As the Attorney General argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the United States Supreme Court in the historic Hollingsworth v. Perry case, "To be clear, Proposition 8's sole purpose was to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. There is absolutely no legitimate or rational state interest in doing so. Proposition 8 is therefore unconstitutional." More information regarding the Attorney General’s engagement on marriage equality can be found here.
North Coast Women's Medical Group v. Superior Court. The Office of the Attorney General has also participated in significant cases to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation by business establishments, including North Coast Women's Medical Group v. Superior Court (2008) 44 Cal 4th 1145. In that case, the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the court brief in the California Supreme Court in support of a woman who was reportedly refused fertilization services by a medical practice because she was an unmarried lesbian. The medical practice asserted that its actions were protected by the constitutional right to free exercise of religion. The Attorney General's brief argued that a religious objection defense is unavailable in a state civil rights enforcement action under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The California Supreme Court agreed, unanimously holding that physicians do not have a constitutional right to discriminate based on sexual orientation in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, even if the discrimination is based on their religious beliefs.
Koepke v. Bernardo Heights Country Club. In 2004, the Office of the Attorney General filed a friend-of-the court brief in the California Supreme Court in support of a lesbian couple who were denied family membership benefits at a county club at which one of them was a member. The couple were registered domestic partners under California law. In this brief, the Attorney General argued that treating registered domestic partners differently from married couples in the provision of any accommodation, advantage, facility, privilege or service by a business establishment, without a legitimate business reason for such differentiation, is a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The brief further argued that there is no legitimate interest in refusing to offer membership benefits to registered domestic partners on the same basis as they are offered to married couples. The California Supreme Court agreed, holding that the Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibited the country club from discriminating between married couples and registered domestic partners in the provision of its services and benefits. The case is entitled, Koepke v. Bernardo Heights Country Club (2005) 36 Cal.4th 824.
Evenwel v. Abbott. . On September 25, 2015, the California Attorney General’s Office, along with the Attorneys General from nineteen other states, joined a friend-of-the-court brief written by the State of New York in support of the State of Texas's merits brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in this important case concerning voting districts. The brief argues that the states' use of total population (i.e., all persons counted by the federal Census, including those ineligible to vote) rather than voter or potential voter population (i.e., registered voters or "eligible voters") as the basis for equalizing the population within state legislative districts does not violate the "one-person, one-vote" principle applicable to the states through the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The friend-of-the-court brief recounts the states' negative experiences using other types of population counts besides the federal Census, and argues that moving away from the use of total population would cause severe practical problems for the states, including reference to several examples from California's history and experiences. Additionally, the brief argues that the use of total population represents a policy choice by the states reflecting a constitutionally sound vision of representational government in which many nonvoting groups, such as children, the mentally incompetent, and undocumented immigrants, are nonetheless considered to be segments of the population that state government should meaningfully represent. On April 4, 2016, in an 8-0 opinion, the Supreme Court held constitutional history, precedent, and practice demonstrate that a state or locality may draw its legislative districts based on total population.
Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. On February 1, 2013, the California Attorney General along with the Attorney Generals from Mississippi and North Carolina joined a friend-of-the-court brief written by the State of New York urging the United States Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the "Act"). The States of Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota, Alabama, Texas, and Alaska filed opposing friend-of- the-court briefs contending that the Act was an impermissible encroachment on state sovereignty. Section 5 of this landmark legislation prohibited "covered jurisdictions" -- those states and political subdivisions identified in the Act as having histories of racial discrimination in voting -- from making any change in their voting procedures without first demonstrating that the change "neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color." The friend-of-the-court brief California joined argued that this preclearance process places minimal burden upon the affected states, that the benefits of the preclearance process, i.e. ensuring equality in voting, greatly outweigh any burden imposed. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court held that section 4(b) of the Act, which sets out the formula used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5's preclearance requirement, is unconstitutional, therefore making Section 5 obsolete until Congress can enact a new statute to determine which jurisdictions should be covered by Section 5.