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February 12, 2004

Civil Rights Act of 2004

I criticize the Supreme Court for its constitutional decisions, but the rightwing on the court does great damage just by making narrow interpretations of statutory law which frustrates the civil rights and worker protections that the drafters of the law meant to defend.

So legislators, backed by a range of civil rights and labor groups, have introduced FAIRNESS: The Civil Rights Act of 2004 to overturn a number of those bad Supreme Court decisions:

Among other remedies, the FAIRNESS Act guarantees equal access to publicly funded services, protection for older workers and workers returning from military service, viable remedies for on-the-job discrimination, and equal pay for women in the workforce. Recently published fact sheets by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund assess the recent Court rulings mentioned in the legislation.
There is a good online fact sheet on why this new law is needed:
In Alexander v. Sandoval, the Supreme Court held that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not permit individuals to sue to stop an apparently neutral practice that has the effect of discriminating; individuals may sue only if thy can prove the discrimination is "intentional."...Civil rights plaintiffs now must rely upon the federal government to bring virtually all of their cases, rather than being able to sue on their own - an inadequate alternative since federal agencies often are overburdened and unable to ensure individualized relief.


State employees have lost their rights to sue for money damages violations of the [federal minimum wage law], such as the denial of overtime pay. This was the Supreme Court's ruling in Alden v. Maine. The Alden ruling leaves state employees without adequate protection against employer abuses of federal labor laws.


In Buckhannon Board & Care Home v. West Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Resources, the Supreme Court held that if a losing defendant "voluntarily" changes its conduct as a result of the plaintiff's lawsuit, the plaintiff does not have the right to recover attorneys' fees from the defendant—even if the lawsuit was the catalyst for the defendant's change in conduct.

Immigrant workers have lost their rights to damages or back pay even when they prove that the employer violated federal labor law. In Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, the Supreme Court held that undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive back pay for violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

There's more, but through a drip, drip of bad decisions, the practical ability of plaintiffs to get relief for violation of civil and labor rights violations had been dramatically eroded in recent years.

This legislation is critical to restore those lost rights

Posted by Nathan at February 12, 2004 08:40 PM