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California's comprehensive civil rights law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act celebrates 50th Anniversary

June 10, 2009

California's comprehensive civil rights law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) celebrates its 50th Anniversary throughout 2009.

California's FEHA is celebrated for transforming California into the Nation's leader in state civil rights. For 50 years, the FEHA has helped to assure a more level playing field for all Californians where they live and work. The FEHA's broad protections embody the diversity that is California and will continue to guarantee equal rights for all Californians for centuries to come. The Pacific ADA Center proudly celebrates the wide reaching equal opportunity protections in housing and employment for people with disabilities as well as other minorities.

History

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is a California civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in employment and housing. It prohibits discriminatory practices based on race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation. The primary state enforcement agency of the FEHA is the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The Department prosecutes housing and employment discrimination cases before the Fair Employment and Housing Commission.

Where an unlawful practice is found, the Commission may order a range of remedies, including back pay, compensatory damages, administrative fines and civil penalties, injunctive relief, and reinstatement. The Commission also promulgates regulations, serves as a forum for civil rights issues, and provides information and education on the laws it enforces.

About the Fair Employment and Housing Commission

The Fair Employment and Housing Commission was established in 1959 (as the Fair Employment Practice Commission), and consists of seven members appointed by the Governor, with the consent of the state Senate.

Throughout its history, FEHA cases have resulted in landmark advancements in civil rights enforcement. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FEHA's pregnancy protections and benefits. In 2002, the California Supreme Court affirmed victims' rights to obtain damages for their emotional injuries in a race discrimination housing case prosecuted before the Commission.
Significant legislative amendments to the Commission's authority in the past decades include: the authority to award emotional distress damages and penalties up to $150,000 in employment cases (1999); authorizing Commission in-house administrative law judges to conduct the Commission's administrative adjudications (1993); and creating the Commission's early mediation program (2004).
Passage of the Prudence Kay Poppink Act in 2000, amending the FEHA's disability protections. Named in honor of the Commission's Judge Poppink, the PKP Act reaffirmed and strengthened California's protections for individuals with disabilities. Judge Poppink was a dedicated advocate for our civil rights laws for over 25 years.


Notable legislative expansions of the scope of the FEHA's protections over the past decades include: making sexual harassers personally liable for their conduct; mandating sexual harassment training for all California employers with 50 or more employees; requiring employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant employees; expanding FEHA's protections to sexual orientation and gender; adding employer liability for non-employee sexual harassment where the employer is on notice; and adding protections for tenants' source of income.

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