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California law affects public workers facing discrimination

The California Senate recently released a report regarding a policy first embraced by the Schwarzenegger administration that could potentially affect any public sector worker who has faced or is facing illegal treatment in the workplace and wishes to pursue justice through the legal system. This policy potentially allows California’s governor to override certain state employment law provisions and veto employment discrimination claims brought by employees against public agencies. Furthermore, it apparently allows the governor to do so without any public disclosure or explanations of any kind.

This potentially abusive policy may already be resulting in unjust outcomes to claims brought by public employees. According to the recently released report drafted by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, only one percent of the employment discrimination enforcement actions by the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) brought last year involved public agencies. In 2008, before this policy took effect, 15 percent of related enforcement actions involved public agencies.

Though the Schwarzenegger administration initiated the policy, it has continued under the leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown. This trend is particularly disconcerting because, as the report notes, “This constitutes unequal treatment for public employees, creates a potential for abuse and compromises DFEH's statutory independence. Taken to its extreme, it allows a California governor, in effect, to exempt public agencies from the state's anti-discrimination law."

Since the public was first made aware of this policy several weeks ago, the administration has received criticism for inserting itself into the employment discrimination claims process in this way. However, at least at this point, it does not seem that the administration is eager to reform its ways.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Secret policy allows governor to veto public job bias cases,” Patrick McGreevy, Dec. 18, 2013

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