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    It’s time to rein in California’s Civil Rights Department
    • October 7, 2023

    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.

    As a result, businesses throughout the Golden State are feeling the brunt of the department’s hostile approach. The burdensome regulations, punitive measures, and adversarial stance of the department have created an environment of fear and uncertainty, deterring many small businesses from even attempting to operate within the state.

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    Understandably, businesses are fleeing California in record numbers, taking thousands of jobs with them. According to a report from Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, at least 352 companies have moved their headquarters from California since 2018 in search of friendlier business climates. These companies include Tesla, Oracle, Toyota, Nestle and many more.

    CRD, in its current form, poses a significant threat to the state’s economic well-being. Protecting civil rights is a vital mission. However, the means by which this mission is pursued matter just as much as the mission itself. Heavy-handed tactics, excessive demands, and an adversarial stance can have the opposite effect, driving businesses and communities away instead of bringing them together.

    CRD should be in the business of protecting workers, not enriching private lawyers. It’s time for lawmakers and Governor Newsom to step in and stop the bleeding—and that should start by getting the rogue agency under control and ending the bounty hunter incentive. California’s future depends on it.

    Tom Manzo is the President and Founder of the California Business and Industrial Alliance 

    ​ Orange County Register