Peralta Community College Dist. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com.

Decision Date20 December 1990
Docket NumberNo. S009487,S009487
Citation801 P.2d 357,276 Cal.Rptr. 114,52 Cal.3d 40
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 801 P.2d 357, 54 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1239, 55 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 40,481, 59 USLW 2479, 64 Ed. Law Rep. 564 PERALTA COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. FAIR EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING COMMISSION, Defendant and Appellant; Rose BROWN, Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Andrea Sheridan Ordin, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., and Marian M. Johnston, Deputy Atty. Gen., for defendant and appellant.

Richard J. Moore, County Counsel, and William E. Rundstrom, Sr. Deputy County Counsel, for plaintiff and respondent.

Max E. Robinson, County Counsel, Fresno, J. Wesley Merritt, Chief Deputy County Counsel, Michael D. Ott, County Counsel, Madera, Greg Kamptner, Deputy County Counsel, Behrens & Viau, Jerome M. Behrens, Fresno, Burke, Williams & Sorenson and Richard R. Terzian, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and respondent.

Vivian Schneider, San Francisco, for real party in interest and respondent.

PANELLI, Associate Justice.

In Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1379, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323 (hereafter Dyna-Med ) we held that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA or Act) (Gov.Code, § 12900 et seq.) 1 does not authorize the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission) to award punitive damages. In the present case we consider whether the Commission has statutory authority to award compensatory damages, a question we reserved in Dyna-Med.

I. Facts

Rose Brown was a temporary employee with the Peralta Community College District (Peralta) during the 1980-1981 school year. She was terminated in April of 1981. Shortly after her termination, she filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (the Department), in which she alleged that her immediate supervisor had subjected her to various acts of sexual harassment. The Department filed an accusation with the Commission. Following a hearing, the Commission found in Ms. Brown's favor and awarded her $374.55 for her out-of-pocket expenses and $20,000 "to compensate her for the damage to her dignity and esteem, and [for] her humiliation, embarrassment, emotional pain and distress."

Peralta petitioned the superior court for a writ of administrative mandamus. (Code Civ.Proc., § 1094.5.) The superior court denied the petition as to the Commission's findings of sexual harassment, but ordered stricken that part of the decision awarding Ms. Brown compensatory damages, as not within the authority of the Commission. On appeal by the Commission, the Court of Appeal, one justice dissenting, reversed. The court held that the Commission is authorized by the FEHA to award compensatory damages.

Because there is a conflict among the Courts of Appeal concerning the Commission's authority to award compensatory damages, we granted review to secure uniformity of decision.

II. Analysis
A. Background

In Dyna-Med, supra, 43 Cal.3d 1379, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323, we reviewed the origins, purposes and provisions of the FEHA. The California Fair Employment Practice Act (FEPA) (former Lab.Code, § 1410 et seq.) was enacted in 1959 and recodified in 1980 as part of the FEHA (Stats.1980, ch. 992, § 4, p. 3140 et seq.). The law establishes that freedom from discrimination in employment on specified grounds, including sex, is a civil right (§ 12921) and such discrimination is against public policy (§ 12920). The law declares discrimination or harassment 2 on the specified grounds an unlawful employment practice. (§ 12940, subd. (h).)

The statute creates two administrative bodies: the Department, whose function is to investigate, conciliate, and seek redress for claimed discrimination (§§ 12901, 12930), and the Commission, which performs adjudicatory and rulemaking functions (§§ 12903, 12935). An aggrieved person may file a complaint with the Department (§ 12960), which must promptly investigate (§ 12963). If the Department deems a claim valid it seeks to resolve the matter--in confidence--by conference, conciliation, and persuasion. (§ 12963.7.) If that fails or seems inappropriate, the Department may issue an accusation to be heard by the Commission. (§§ 12965, subd. (a), 12969.)

If the Department fails to issue an accusation within 150 days after the filing of the complaint, or if it earlier determines not to prosecute the case and the matter is not otherwise resolved, the Department must give the complainant a "right to sue" letter. The complainant may then bring a civil suit in superior court. (§ 12965, subd. (b); Dyna-Med, supra, 43 Cal.3d at pp. 1382-1384, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323; Commodore Home Systems, Inc. v. Superior Court (1982) 32 Cal.3d 211, 213-214 185 Cal.Rptr. 270, 649 P.2d 912 (hereafter Commodore Home Systems).) In a private action under the FEHA, the superior court may award compensatory and punitive damages. (State Personnel Bd. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1985) 39 Cal.3d 422, 429, 217 Cal.Rptr. 16, 703 P.2d 354; Commodore Home Systems, supra, 32 Cal.3d at p. 221, 185 Cal.Rptr. 270, 649 P.2d 912.)

When, as in the case at bench, an accusation issues, the Commission holds a hearing. The hearings are full evidentiary proceedings governed by the California rules of evidence and conducted in accordance with the California Administrative Procedure Act (§ 11500 et seq.). (§ 12972.) The Department serves as prosecutor and advocate on the complainant's behalf and also bears the costs of the hearing. (§ 12969.) The hearing is presided over by an administrative law judge (ALJ) (§ 11512, subd. (a)), who renders a proposed decision to the Commission, which then either adopts the decision as its own or, after reviewing the administrative record, adopts a different decision (§ 11517). Either party can petition the superior court for a writ of administrative mandamus. (§ 11523; Code Civ.Proc., § 1094.5.)

If the Commission finds that the respondent employer or labor union has engaged in an unlawful discrimination practice, it is required to state its findings of fact and determination and to issue and serve on the parties a cease and desist order. (§ 12970, subd. (a).) In addition, pursuant to section 12970, subdivision (a), the Commission is authorized to require the respondent to "take such action, including, but not limited to, hiring, reinstatement or upgrading of employees, with or without back pay, and restoration to membership in any respondent labor organization, as, in the judgment of the commission, will effectuate the purposes of [the FEHA], and including a requirement for report of the manner of compliance." Because it is undisputed that the Commission's authority must come from the Act, our disposition of the instant case turns on the meaning of this latter provision.

In concluding that the statute authorized the Commission to award compensatory damages, the Court of Appeal first looked to the words of the statute. The court observed that the phrase "including, but not limited to" enlarged the Commission's authority, and that the statute authorizes the Commission to fashion such remedies as "in the judgment of the commission" will effectuate the purposes of the Act. (§ 12970, subd. (a).) From these phrases, taken together with the legislative directive that the Act is to be "construed liberally for the accomplishment of [its] purposes" (§ 12993, subd. (a)), the court determined that the plain language of the statute allowed compensatory damages, if the judgment of the Commission is that the damages are necessary.

The Court of Appeal next considered the legislative intent in enacting the law. The purpose of the Act, the court noted, is to "provide effective remedies which will eliminate such discriminatory practices" that are contrary to the public policy of the state. (§ 12920; see Commodore Home Systems, supra, 32 Cal.3d at p. 220, 185 Cal.Rptr. 270, 649 P.2d 912.) Compensatory damages are a necessary and effective remedy, the court concluded, because such damages are effective at both punishing and deterring and, as in the instant case, may provide the only suitable remedy available to the victim of the unlawful discrimination. 3 Furthermore, the availability of compensatory damages may actually promote the important conference and conciliation goals of the Act, in that employers may be more willing to confer and negotiate if they know the Commission can impose damages against them.

In Dyna-Med, supra, 43 Cal.3d 1379, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323, decided after the Court of Appeal's opinion in this case, we rejected the argument that the expansive language of section 12970, subdivision (a), taken together with the legislative statement of purpose (§ 12920) and directive that the Act should be liberally construed (§ 12993, subd. (a)), authorized the Commission to award punitive damages. The statutorily authorized remedies, we noted, are "exclusively corrective and equitable in kind. They relate to matters which serve to make the aggrieved employee whole in the context of the employment. [p] Punitive damages, by contrast, are neither equitable nor corrective; punitive damages serve but one purpose--to punish and through punishment, to deter." (43 Cal.3d at p. 1387, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323.) Consequently, although we recognized that in their deterrent effect punitive damages would further the purpose of the Act to eliminate unlawful discrimination, in light of the "extraordinary nature" of such damages we found the foregoing factors "insufficient to support an inference that the Legislature intended sub silentio to empower the commission to impose punitive damages." (Id. at p. 1389, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323.)

Seeking to distinguish Dyna-Med, supra, 43 Cal.3d 1379, 241 Cal.Rptr. 67, 743 P.2d 1323, the Attorney General argues that, unlike punitive damages, compensatory...

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