Most people know it is a crime to commit an act of violence or threat of violence against a person or one’s property because of that person’s protected characteristic, such as race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, or sex. When we hear about these acts of violence, we tend to think criminal laws are the only means of protection against such crimes, but there are multiple civil laws in California that also provide protection and remedies to victims.
What Civil Laws Protect Your Right To Freedom From Hate Violence?
In California, there are two primary legislative acts that protect against hate violence: the Ralph Civil Rights Act (Civil Code § 51.7) (“Ralph Act”) and the Thomas Bane Civil Rights Act (Civil Code § 52.1) (“Bane Act”). The legislature enacted these laws and related statutes dealing with discriminatory threats and violence in response to an increase in crimes committed based on the victim’s minority status.
Under the Ralph Act, all persons have the right to be free from any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of an individual’s actual or perceived characteristics, including but not limited to, sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, political affiliation, or immigration status.
To prove a claim under the Ralph Act, a plaintiff must show that (1) the defendant threatened or committed violent acts against the plaintiff; (2) the defendant was motivated by a perception of the plaintiff which is contrary to the Ralph Act, such as the plaintiff’s race; (3) the plaintiff was harmed; and (4) the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm. Some examples of prohibited conduct include verbal or written threats of violence, physical assault or attempted assault, graffiti, vandalism, or property damage.
Under the Bane Act, a person is protected against interferences or attempts to interfere by threat, intimidation, or coercion with a person’s exercise or enjoyment of any constitutional or statutory rights under the laws of the United States or California. An action under the Bane Act may not be based on speech alone, except on a showing that the speech itself threatens violence against a specific person or group of persons; that the person or group of persons against whom the threat is directed reasonably fears that, because of the speech, violence will be committed against them or their property; and that the person threatening violence had the apparent ability to carry out the threat.
To prove a Bane Act claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate that there was an attempted or completed act of interference with a legal right, accompanied by a form of coercion. The essence of this claim is that the defendant, by the specified improper means, i.e., “threats, intimidation or coercion,” tried to or did prevent the plaintiff from doing something he or she had the right to do under the law. A few examples of such rights include the right to association, due process, employment, equal protection, housing, speech, vote, or worship.
While these two laws are similar, they have clear differences. The Ralph Act protects the right to be free from violence based on a person’s actual or perceived characteristics, while the Bane Act protects the right to be free from interference with one’s constitutional and statutory rights. Depending on the circumstances, a victim of hate violence may assert claims under the Ralph Act, Bane Act, or both.
What Remedies Are Available?
Under both the Ralph Act and Bane Act, victims of hate violence may be entitled to the following remedies as a result of the harm suffered by the wrongdoer’s conduct:
- Actual Damages: Monetary damages for the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, property damage, or emotional suffering and distress.
- Punitive Damages: A court can order additional damages to punish the wrongdoer.
- Civil Penalties: A fine of $25,000 against the wrongdoer to be paid to the victim.
- Attorneys’ Fees: A court may order the wrongdoer to pay the victim’s reasonable attorneys’ fees resulting from the lawsuit to enforce the victim’s rights.
- Restraining Orders and Injunctive Relief: A court may issue an order instructing the wrongdoer to stop all acts of violence or threats of violence against the victim, and if the wrongdoer violates the order, the wrongdoer can be fined or jailed.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) enforces the Ralph Act and Bane Act. Victims of hate violence can file a complaint directly with the DFEH or file a lawsuit in civil court to enforce these civil laws.
If you believe that you have been the victim of hate violence, call Lee & Kim LLP at (213) 468-8840 for a free consultation.