The Ralph Civil Rights Act allows claims for up to $25,000.00 in penalties for victims of a hate crime or a threatened hate crime. A claim is based on the person being targeted because of his or her:
- sexual orientation,
- religion, or
- other protected characteristics.
Successful Ralph Act lawsuits can lead to recovery of:
In this article, the civil rights lawyers at the Shouse Law Office explain:
- 1. What is a Ralph Act lawsuit?
- 2. What are the protected classes?
- 3. What do I have to prove in a lawsuit?
- 4. What damages can be recovered?
1. What is a Ralph Act lawsuit?
A Ralph Act lawsuit is a civil claim for damages under the Ralph Civil Rights Act of 1976.1 The Ralph Act, along with the Bane Act, was meant to prevent hate crimes such as:
- Oral or written violent threats;
- Physical assault (actual or attempted);
- Graffiti; and/or
- Vandalism or other property damage.2
This law guarantees the right of people in protected classes to be free from both violence and intimidation. The Ralph Act does this by allowing them to file a lawsuit against perpetrators of a hate crime or discrimination. The Act also allows lawsuits to be filed against people who threaten those in protected classes.
Note that hate crime victims can either:
- file a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH); or
- file a civil complaint with the applicable court
The deadline to file a complaint under the Ralph Act is one year after the hate crime victim learns of the perpetrator’s identity (as long as it is no more than three years after the victim was injured).
2. What are the protected classes?
The Ralph Civil Rights Act protects people who are in protected classes. If one person hurts or threatens someone else because they are in a protected class, it can lead to a lawsuit under California law. Protected classes (actual or perceived) include:
- Gender, including gender expression and identity,
- Skin color,
- Ancestry or heritage,
- National origin,
- Medical condition,
- Genetic information,
- Marital status,
- Sexual orientation (LGBT, etc.),
- Political affiliation,
- Position in a labor dispute,
- Primary language, and
- Immigration status.3
The Act expressly says that this list is not all-encompassing.4
Victims do not actually have to be in a protected class. If a defendant wrongly perceives someone as being in a protected class, they can be liable in a lawsuit.
Example: Dan threatens to run Ranjit over in his car for being Muslim. Ranjit is actually Sikh.
Note that lawsuits can be brought not only by the protected person but also by the attorney general or a district attorney or a city attorney.
3. What do I have to prove in a lawsuit?
What you have to prove in a Ralph Act lawsuit based on violence is slightly different than one based on threats. Both, however, center on whether your status in a protected class caused the violence or threat.
3.1. Lawsuits based on violent acts
To be successful in a lawsuit based on violence, you have to prove that:
- The defendant committed a violent act against you or your property,
- A substantial motivating reason for the act of violence was the perception of your position in a protected class, and
- The violence was a substantial cause of your injuries.5
3.2. Lawsuits based on threats
Lawsuits that claim someone intimidated you with a threat of violence have to prove that:
- The defendant intentionally threatened violence against you or your property (physical assault and/or property damage),
- A substantial motivating reason for the threats of violence was the perception that you were in a protected class,
- A reasonable person in your shoes would have believed the defendant would carry out the threat and been intimidated by it, and
- The threat was a substantial factor in any losses or harms that you suffered.6
It is not necessary to show that the threats were carried out. Mere words can be enough for a Ralph Act civil action.7
4. What damages can be recovered?
Ralph Act plaintiffs may be awarded up to three times their actual damages (but no less than $4,000). In addition, plaintiffs may be eligible for punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
Specifically, claims demand compensation for such actual damages as:
- Medical bills associated with any physical injuries you suffered and required medical treatment,
- Wages lost while you were recuperating,
- Lost earning capacity,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Costs of property repair (such as from vandalism),
- Loss of consortium suffered by your family.
It can also include other financial losses that can be connected to threats or violence, such as:
- Moving costs,
- Mental anguish and emotional suffering from living in fear, and
- Additional security at home or work.
Punitive damages (exemplary damages) are also possible in a successful lawsuit. These seek to punish the defendant for their conduct. You can recover punitive damages even if you have already been fully compensated.
The Ralph Act, however, goes further than many other civil lawsuits. It allows victims to recover a civil fine of $25,000, as well. Victims can also recover attorney fees for the costs of pursuing their lawsuit. You can also get a restraining order against the defendant to keep them away from you.
The state of California’s civil rights laws allow you to defend yourself against people who violate your constitutional rights by attacking or threatening you for who you are. Our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys can help you file a lawsuit. Contact us today to get started.
- California Civil Code 51.7.
(b) (1) All persons within the jurisdiction of this state have the right to be free from any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of political affiliation, or on account of any characteristic listed or defined in subdivision (b) or (e) of Section 51, or position in a labor dispute, or because another person perceives them to have one or more of those characteristics. The identification in this subdivision of particular bases of discrimination is illustrative rather than restrictive. one or more of those characteristics. The identification in this subdivision of particular bases of discrimination is illustrative rather than restrictive.
California Civil Code 52.
(a) Whoever denies, aids or incites a denial, or makes any discrimination or distinction contrary to Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6, is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages, and any amount that may be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damage but in no case less than four thousand dollars ($4,000), and any attorney’s fees that may be determined by the court in addition thereto, suffered by any person denied the rights provided in Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6. (b) Whoever denies the right provided by Section 51.7 or 51.9, or aids, incites, or conspires in that denial, is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages suffered by any person denied that right and, in addition, the following:
(1) An amount to be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, for exemplary damages.
(2) A civil penalty of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) to be awarded to the person denied the right provided by Section 51.7 in any action brought by the person denied the right, or by the Attorney General, a district attorney, or a city attorney. An action for that penalty brought pursuant to Section 51.7 shall be commenced within three years of the alleged practice.
(3) Attorney’s fees as may be determined by the court.
(c) Whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that any person or group of persons is engaged in conduct of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights described in this section, and that conduct is of that nature and is intended to deny the full exercise of those rights, the Attorney General, any district attorney or city attorney, or any person aggrieved by the conduct may bring a civil action in the appropriate court by filing with it a complaint. The complaint shall contain the following:
(1) The signature of the officer, or, in his or her absence, the individual acting on behalf of the officer, or the signature of the person aggrieved.
(2) The facts pertaining to the conduct.
(3) A request for preventive relief, including an application for a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order against the person or persons responsible for the conduct, as the complainant deems necessary to ensure the full enjoyment of the rights described in this section.
(d) Whenever an action has been commenced in any court seeking relief from the denial of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability, the Attorney General or any district attorney or city attorney for or in the name of the people of the State of California may intervene in the action upon timely application if the Attorney General or any district attorney or city attorney certifies that the case is of general public importance. In that action, the people of the State of California shall be entitled to the same relief as if it had instituted the action.
(e) Actions brought pursuant to this section are independent of any other actions, remedies, or procedures that may be available to an aggrieved party pursuant to any other law.
(f) Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an alleged unlawful practice in violation of Section 51 or 51.7 may also file a verified complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing pursuant to Section 12948 of the Government Code.
(g) This section does not require any construction, alteration, repair, structural or otherwise, or modification of any sort whatsoever, beyond that construction, alteration, repair, or modification that is otherwise required by other provisions of law, to any new or existing establishment, facility, building, improvement, or any other structure, nor does this section augment, restrict, or alter in any way the authority of the State Architect to require construction, alteration, repair, or modifications that the State Architect otherwise possesses pursuant to other laws.
(h) For the purposes of this section, “actual damages” means special and general damages. This subdivision is declaratory of existing law.
(i) Subdivisions (b) to (f), inclusive, shall not be waived by contract except as provided in Section 51.7.
(See also the Unruh Civil Rights Act.)
- See Jones v. Kmart Corp., (Cal. App. 1998) 949 P.2d 941.
- California Civil Code § 51(b) and (e).
- California Civil Code section 51.7(a) (“identification … of particular bases of discrimination is illustrative”).
- California Civ. Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 3063.
- CACI 3064.
- See Long v. Valentino, (Cal. App. 1989) 265 Cal. Rptr. 96.