Citing concerns for small business owners, California Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill to amend the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act.
The Unruh act prohibits California businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability or medical condition. SB 111, a bill proposed by state Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco, would have added language to that list.
Yee proposed a similar bill in 2008, following a controversial, short-lived Ladies Professional Golf Association requirement that players speak English. The LPGA rule spurred Yee to introduce a language rights measure. His proposed bill explicitly prohibited business owners from withholding service based on language and made it illegal for employers to impose language requirements on workers unless fluency was essential for doing a job. That bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Expecting a different result now that a Democrat has taken Schwarzenegger's place, Yee was disappointed when Governor Brown vetoed a newer version of the language bill. Brown said the Unruh act's national origin language already covers this type of discrimination and he fears the law would expose small businesses to costly, unnecessary litigation.
The American Civil Liberties Union Legal Aid Society says the law on language discrimination is evolving, but some courts and government agencies have ruled it is forbidden by the national origin clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.