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The Ralph Act

Enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the Ralph Act is a civil rights law that aims to protect people with special characteristics and their property from violence or intimidation by the threat of violence. Individuals who violate the Ralph Act are liable for having committed a hate crime.

The Ralph Act is codified in California’s Civil Code Section 51.7 which states that all persons within the state of California have the right to be free from any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of actual or perceived political affiliation, position in a labor dispute or on account of any characteristic (see non-exhaustive list below). The identification of particular bases of discrimination is illustrative rather than restrictive.

The Ralph Act imposes civil penalties of up to $25,000 for perpetrators of a hate crime. Victims of hate crimes are also entitled to an award of up to three times actual damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

What Kind of Acts are Forbidden?

  • Verbal or written threats of violence
  • Physical assault or attempted assault
  • Graffiti
  • Vandalism or property damage

Who is Protected?

The Ralph Act prohibits violence or threats of violence based on an individual’s actual or perceived characteristics, including but not limited to, the following:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Ancestry
  • National Origin
  • Disability
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic Information
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Citizenship
  • Primary Language
  • Immigration Status
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Political Affiliation
  • Position in a Labor Dispute

Individuals who believe they have been subjected to hate violence or the threat of violence may file a complaint with the California DFEH or elect to pursue a private cause of action through a civil proceeding. Complaints alleging hate violence must be filed within one year from the day the victim becomes aware of the perpetrator’s identity, but not more than three years from the date of injury.

What Civil Remedies are Available?

The DFEH lists the following civil remedies available under the Ralph Act:

  • Restraining Orders: After a restraining order is obtained from a court, violators of that court order can be fined or jailed.
  • Actual Damages: Damages may include the cost of the victim’s medical treatment, lost wages, property repair, or payment for emotional suffering and distress.
  • Punitive Damages: A court can order additional damages to punish violators.
  • Civil Penalties: A court may order a fine of $25,000, which would be awarded to the person filing the complaint.

Attorney’s Fees: A court may order the violator to pay the victims’ attorney’s fees incurred as a result of having to file a lawsuit to enforce the victim’s civil rights.

How Does a Victim Prove a Ralph’s Act Violation?

In order to prevail in a Ralph’s Act lawsuit, the plaintiff/victim must prove all of the following:

  • That the defendant committed an act of violence (or threatened violence) against the plaintiff because of the plaintiff’s actual or perceived characteristic;
  • That a substantial motivating reason for defendant’s conduct was the actual or perceived characteristic of the plaintiff;
  • That the plaintiff was harmed; and
  • That defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm to plaintiff.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a “hate crime” or has been intimidated with threats of violence because of an actual or perceived characteristic, contact Hicks and Hicks. We have substantial experience litigating Ralph Act claims on behalf of victims of hate crimes.

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