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    The High Cost of “Civil Rights”

    From Destiny Magazine

    Earlier this year the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) reported that the average American family pays about $1,200 a year in a defacto lawyer’s “tort tax.” Enormous jury awards against businesses in product liability suits where no one is at fault mean greater costs for consumers. Even when businesses win their cases in court, ATRA argued, the cost of defending frivolous liability lawsuits has increased a typical family’s annual grocery bill by $280 and greatly increased the prices of other necessities, such as medicines. But there is another lawyer’s tax that Americans are going to have to start paying. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Americans are increasingly being laden with a lawyer’s “civil rights tax.”

    The following are a few specific examples of how Americans are being “taxed” through Civil rights regulations:

    In 1989 a black woman was turned down for a job at the Daniel Lamp Company in Chicago. At the time, the company employed no whites, 24 Hispanics, and two blacks. The woman filed a discrimination complaint. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found no evidence of discrimination by the Southside ­based firm located in a Hispanic neighborhood. But the EEOC did find a crime, charging that company president Mike Welbel (a Caucasian) should have hired 8.45 blacks, a number based upon a computer analysis of the proportion of blacks living within a three ­mile radius of the factory. The agency ordered the Daniel Lamp Company to spend $10,000 in advertising for 6.5 new black workers and then to give these workers back pay totaling $124,000. Welbel argued in vain that the low-paying jobs brought about a transient work force where exact racial proportionality was next to impossible. Most people would not travel any significant distance to work there. By late 1991 Welbel agreed to settle the case for a $125,000 fine.

    In October 1991, Appleton, Wisconsin, landlords Malcolm and Ruth Ristow told tenant Edward J Campbell, his girlfriend Cheryl Lorentz and her daughter to vacate their apartment. The Ristows gave the order because the three had violated city-zoning regulations, which stipulated that the tiny one bedroom apartment could house a maximum of two people. Lorentz charged that the Ristows discriminated against her for being a single mother. She filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and initiated a $20,000 civil lawsuit. Though the Ristows were eventually cleared of discrimination charges, they had to undergo the cost of hiring an attorney to defend themselves. The $20,000 civil suit is still pending.

    When other prisoners threatened the life of convicted murderer, Willie Williams. Illinois prison officials placed him under protective custody for his own safety. But while his life was being protected. Williams was unable to use some of the prison facilities enjoyed by other inmates, such as the gymnasium. So he sued the state for violating his “civil rights.” In 1992 a federal court awarded Williams and 1,714 other inmates, who had been placed under protective custody, damages totaling over $1 million.

    When terminal brain cancer began to impair the mental faculties of Charles Wessel, an executive at AIC 1 Security Investigations, the company’s new owner fired him. Even though the maximum award limit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is $300,000, Wessel won $22,000 in back pay and another $550,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from a federal jury under ADA pro­visions. AIC Security is appealing the ruling.

    Paraplegic Lawrence Anderson recently sued the American Little League Baseball Association under ADA provisions for not letting him coach his son’s team in his wheel chair from the third baseline. A federal court ordered Little League Baseball to end its policy of banning wheelchairs from the field because of safety concerns:

    White fire fighters of Birmingham, Alabama, charged that the city violated federal civil rights laws by turning them down for promotions through an affirmative action quota program. The case has already been reviewed once by the Supreme Court and a decision is still pending.

    Many state and local governments have much steeper “civil rights taxes” than the federal government. Here are a few examples:

    Shell Oil manager, Jeffrey Collins, prepared sexually explicit invitations to a homosexual sex party on company stationery in 1985. The memorandum about his sex club was produced on a company computer and left in plain sight of other workers. When a female secretary complained about the memorandum, Shell fired Collins. Though Shell fired him because of his behavior during office hours and misuse of company equipment, Collins charged he was fired because he was a homosexual. In 1991, Shell was ordered to pay $5.3 million to Collins after losing the lawsuit under California state labor laws prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals.

    Brothers Ron and Paul Desilet of Turners Falls, Massachusetts, were sued for refusing on religious and moral grounds to rent an apartment to an unmarried couple. The co­habiting couple complained to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), claiming that they had been discriminated against because of their marital status,” a crime in the Bay state. MCAD took the Desilet brothers to court, but a district court dismissed the charges last December. MCAD is appealing the decision. Considered a possible landmark case by “fat rights” activists, 305-pound Toni Cassisti was turned down for a clerk position she applied for in a California health food store because store managers believed her to be physically incapable of doing the job. “Because I was unable to do my job, I had a perceived handicap,” Cassisti explained concerning her lawsuit charging weight discrimination. “Under the law they should have begun to make reasonable accommodations or explain why they could not make these accommodations.”

    The California Supreme Court currently hearing the case. Regal Art Press refused to print membership cards for Vermont Catholics for a Free Choice (CFC) in January 1990. Shop owners Malcolm and Susan Baker, who are themselves Catholic, believe that abortion and its advocacy are intrinsically evil. They explained to Linda Paquette, the local CFC head, that it was against their religious beliefs to support a misrepresentation of their faith. Nevertheless, with the help of the local ACLU, the CFC is suing on the basis of “religious discrimination.” The case is still in the courts.

    * Cambodian immigrant Phanna Xieng was passed over for promotion at a Washington bank because bank managers reasoned his foreign accent was so strong that it impaired his ability to do his job. Xieng sued and won $389,000 in damages. The Washington State Supreme Court upheld the court decision, stating that “good faith belief [on the pan of the bank that… lack of communication skills would materially interfere with job performance” was not a valid reason for denying Xieng a promotion. Such a subjective standard, the court continued, “Could easily become a refuge for unlawful national origin discrimination.”

    Attempts at solving the problems of “rights” is beginning to produce more energy than the courts can handle. The cost to the average citizen threatens to convulse an already tense tort system. The job of policing the “intent” and “feelings” of others has no limit. With no limit will the rights of the paying public ever catch up with the rights of the aggrieved? §

    Editor’s Comment: This article was originally printed in the Nov./Dec. 1993 issue of Destiny Magazine and reprinted with permission.