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Report: Policy allows governor to veto employment discrimination cases

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A long-secret policy allows California's governor to veto employment discrimination cases against public agencies without explanation or disclosure, a state legislative report has revealed.

The policy was adopted during the administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger and continues under Gov. Jerry Brown, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The report by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes said the policy "constitutes unequal treatment for public employees, creates a potential for abuse" and compromises the independence of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

"Taken to its extreme, it allows a California governor, in effect, to exempt public agencies from the state's anti-discrimination law," the report stated.

Public agencies were targeted in 15 percent of enforcement actions taken by the fair employment agency involving employment discrimination before the policy took effect in 2008. That number dropped to one percent last year, said the report.

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, challenged the criticism in the report.

"Contrary to this report's deeply flawed claims, our focus is on protecting the rights of Californians while resolving disputes in the most fair and sensible manner," Westrup told the Times. "The people of California expect and deserve effective management of departments in the Executive Branch, which is precisely what we are doing."

State officials declined to provide Senate researchers with information on the number of claims denied by the Schwarzenegger administration. The department indicated that Brown's office has formally denied one request, but employees of the fair employment agency told Senate consultants that other cases were dropped as well.

Under the policy, the department automatically sidetracks all public employee claims to an early settlement procedure, regardless of whether it has been requested, the report said.

Some complaints judged by the department to have merit were not submitted to the governor's office because it was felt there was not enough time to get approval given the tight deadlines for investigations and enforcement, the newspaper said.

"There were times when, because of time constraints, we could not go forward with a claim," Tim Muscat, the former chief counsel, said in testimony in the report. He said that happened about 10 times that he knew about.

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