We’ve often covered the outrageous results of California’s Unruh Act, a lawyer-enriching, endlessly abusable enactment that awards damages without actual injury, generates surprising new grounds for litigation, and tilts the playing field of litigation toward plaintiffs with one-way fee shift entitlements and other goodies. Now, whether or not with dollar signs twinkling in their eyes, some busybodies have invoked it to go after a women-in-tech conference over alleged sex discrimination, and a whole new generation of commentators have discovered that in areas like the Unruh Act, “the legal system allows meritless claims to extort compliance” and that the “threat of a lawsuit is usually enough to shut a company down, even if the company stands a good chance of winning in court, simply for one reason: it costs less to settle than it does to fight in court.” Ken at Popehat does not offer a warm outpouring of sympathy:
Here’s the thing: if you only wake up to how broken the system is when it’s abused by one of your ideological enemies, you’re a vapid partisan hack. The legal system — including, but not “only” or “especially” civil rights laws — is a tool of extortion, deceit, and thuggery. I’ve seen nothing in my 21 years as a lawyer to make me think that civil rights plaintiffs are any more likely than other plaintiffs to abuse the system. But some laws lend themselves to abuse — like laws that are deliberately broad, deliberately flexible, and that award attorney fees only to prevailing plaintiffs, removing all deterrents against frivolous suits and piling on incentives to cave to extortion. The result is a system that’s profitable for lawyers, mediocre for individual plaintiffs, and a constant burden on potential defendants in a way that utterly fails to distinguish between wrongdoers and the innocent.
If you’re only irritated by this when a group of Wrong People target a group of Right People, you’re not to be taken seriously.