Question:

I am originally from Afghanistan, but have not lived there for more than 30 years. Recently, one of my co-workers became very agitated with me over what to me was a minor workplace dispute. He started referring to my national origin, and told me I should go back to where I came from. He pushed and shoved me out the door and yelled threats as I drove away. I called the police when I got home, and they refused to even investigate. They called it a “civil matter.” I have not returned to work, even though my employer terminated the co-worker. I am too embarrassed. Is there anything I can do to remedy this injustice in light of the police department’s refusal to investigate?

Answer:

Even though the police department has refused to pursue criminal charges, there is a civil remedy available to you. The Ralph Civil Rights Act, which is found at California Civil Code section 51.7, forbids acts of violence or threats of violence because of a person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or position in a labor dispute. The Ralph Civil Rights Act prohibits the following types of actions when motivated by the above listed protected classifications:

  • Threats, verbal or written
  • Physical assault or attempted assault
  • Graffiti
  • Vandalism or property damage.

The remedies available under the Ralph Civil Rights Act include restraining orders, actual damages, punitive damages, civil penalties, and attorney’s fees. The Ralph Civil Rights Act can be enforced by the filing of a private lawsuit or with a complaint filed with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH).

Late last year, the California Fair Employment & Housing Commission (FEHC) awarded a former gas station attendant $100,000 in damages as a result of a hate-motivated attack that occurred in the wake of the September 11 th terrorist attacks. The victim was a resident of Jordanian descent working the graveyard shift at a San Diego-area gas station. A customer approached the victim and asked for a pack of cigarettes. The customer then refused to pay for the cigarettes, and threatened to kill the victim. The customer insisted that the victim was from Afghanistan and was “with the guy who tried to destroy America.” In this case, the police responded when called and arrested the customer. The victim then filed a complaint with the DFEH, and the DFEH successfully prosecuted the case before the FEHC. The DFEH awarded the victim $75,000 in actual damages for his emotional distress and $25,000 as a civil penalty for the unlawful hate violence.

The DFEH has a toll-free hotline for victims of hate violence. That number is 866-460-HELP. Victims of hate violence can file complaints pursuant to the Ralph Act by calling the DFEH at 1-800-884-1684.
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