The office of State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-23) has, in response to recent events, issued the following statement:
“The Senator wishes to express her gratitude to Secretary of Consumer Affairs Rosario Marin for her invitation to a select handful of civil rights leaders in which she summoned them to discuss a matter of grave import for the future of civil rights law enforcement in California. I have an especially deep appreciation for the level of collegial respect and dedication to the cause of civil rights reflected in the timing and form of the summons. The issuance of an invitation, after midnight last night, by group email, for a conference call at 9:30 am this morning, the same day the Commission was meeting to act on the Secretary’s plan to dismantle civil rights enforcement, clearly reflects the Secretary’s awareness that justice never sleeps. The small size and apparent randomness of the invitation list, along with the initial provision of an incorrect call-in number, insured that only the most resourceful and dedicated defenders of equality would be able to locate the teleconference, should they actually hear of it. We can only assume that the Secretary was surprised and delighted by the unexpected level of participation that the civil rights community was able to muster.”
The Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), which has the responsibility to enforce all of California’s civil rights laws, met Tuesday morning, September 18th, to, among other agenda items, discuss a proposal, as requested by Secretary Marin, with the blessing of the Governor’s office, to do away with the specially trained panel of Administrative Law Judges who are now responsible for hearing discrimination cases brought by the FEHC. Secretary Marin wanted to move all such cases to the Office of Administrative Hearings, which is responsible for more general law enforcement.
In 1992, under Governor Pete Wilson, the Legislature specifically authorized the Commission to hire its own ALJs. This was done because the OAH, which had been hearing cases and which Secretary Marin and the Schwarzenegger administration want to put back in charge, had proven to be both uneconomical and ineffective. The legal staff of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission had been required to use its time and financial resources to revise and rewrite over 90% of all OAH decisions in this area as incorrect on both the law and Commission policy One decision would have overruled the Commission’s own regulations. Another allowed an employer to ban all women from his workplace.
A letter was sent to Secretary Marin signed by Senate Pro Temps Perata, Speaker Nunez, Senator Kuehl, and the chairs of Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Labor Committee, Senate Budget Committee, Assembly Labor Committee, Assembly Judiciary Committee, Assembly Budget Committee, Latino Legislative Caucus, Legislative Black Caucus, API Legislative Caucus and the Legislative LGBT Caucus. In the course of the phone conference referred to earlier, Secretary Marin assured the callers that the proposal was never intended to be “punitive,” but only offered in the interests of “efficiency.”
As of this writing, the proposal to dismantle the panel of Administrative Law Judges has been removed from the Commission’s agenda with no word on how the matter will, ultimately, be resolved.