Attorney General Lockyer Praises Supreme Court Ruling Protecting the Physically-Disabled

Thursday, February 20, 2003
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today praised a unanimous California Supreme Court ruling that makes it clear that Californian's strong anti-discrimination law provides broader protection than federal law to individuals with physical disabilities. The ruling in Colmenares v. Braemar Country Club was the court's first decision in a decade to address the definition of "physical disability" for purposes of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), California's civil rights statute prohibiting employment discrimination.

"This important decision affirms that all Californians have always and will continue to receive full protection and access to legal recourse if they are refused jobs, fired or harassed in the workplace based on a physical disability," Lockyer said. "Under this ruling, the state Supreme Court makes it clear that California employment law offers broader protection against discrimination than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)."

The ruling resolves a conflict between two appellate courts over the definition of "disability" as it relates to the FEHA. In a "friend of the court" brief filed last spring by the Attorney General's Civil Rights Enforcement Section, Lockyer said that the FEHA has always required that a physical disability only "limit" an individual's ability to engage in major life activities, such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks or performing functions required for employment or advancement. Requiring a physical disability to "substantially limit" an individual, as the federal ADA does, would mean individuals with physical disabilities who treat their conditions are less likely to be considered disabled and, as a result, have less protection against discrimination.

Since taking office in 1999, Lockyer has been a strong advocate for the disabled community. He has successfully pursued and assisted in cases against a landlord who refused to allow tenants to install air conditioners needed for their medical conditions, an insurance company that charged a disabled client higher premiums for a life insurance policy, a hotel that canceled the reservations for the parents of a child who required 24-hour nursing care and a commuter transit authority which had ticket vending machines that were not accessible to visually impaired commuters.

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