The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) was established to protect civil rights by mediating disagreements between workers and employers. However, recent events have cast a shadow on this noble mission. Today, the department is constantly embroiled in disputes, including clashes with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), countless businesses, and even legal battles with its own staff union. And now, the agency is facing a lawsuit filed by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF).
HAF’s lawsuit against the department is a startling reminder of the unintended consequences of unchecked regulatory authority. The foundation alleges that the department overstepped its bounds by violating “several Constitutional rights of Hindus and Indian Americans living in California due to the manner in which it pursued its case alleging caste discrimination at Cisco Systems.”
Allegations of discrimination against religious minorities, like those raised by HAF, should raise alarms about whether the department is truly acting in good faith. When a department tasked with protecting civil rights has become a threat to those rights, it erodes the very fabric of a just society.
The department’s aggressiveness goes far beyond this single lawsuit. Its enforcement actions have left many businesses and organizations, particularly small ones, feeling targeted and harassed.
How did CRD get to this point? In 2012, then-governor Jerry Brown signed the “bounty hunter” provision (SB 1038) into law, which gave CRD the ability to skip mediation and bring cases directly to court.
Similarly to California’s infamous Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), this provision incentivized the agency to engage with private law firms to chase cases with the highest financial return rather than those that would better serve the public interest. Frequently, these cases involve trivial or unintentional violations that result in million dollar lawsuits. The majority of these winnings go to private trial lawyers and the agency itself – not the plaintiffs. To make matters worse, CRD has also attempted to block settlements mediated by EEOC, denying plaintiffs of the money they are entitled to—the exact opposite of CRD’s original mission.