On July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act (“Act”) of 1964 was signed into law. Title VI of the Act provides that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefit of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal Financial Assistance. In 1974, the Supreme Court decided Lau v. Nichols, (1974) 414 U.S. 563, the cornerstone of language access advocacy. The Court held that a San Francisco school district violated Title VI when it failed to provide adequate instruction for Chinese students who did not speak English, finding that the Title VI prohibition against discrimination based on national original includes discrimination based on limited English proficiency (“LEP”).
While the Act only applies to public and private entities receiving federal financial assistance, the California State Legislature (“Legislature”) followed suit and enacted a number of statutes mandating language access. In 1976, less than one year after Lau v. Nichols, the Legislature enacted California Civil Code section 1632 which requires the following:
Any person engaged in a trade or business who negotiates primarily in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean, orally or in writing, in the course of entering into a [contract], shall deliver to the other party to the contract or agreement and prior to the extension thereof, a translation of the contract or agreement in the language in which the contract or agreement was negotiated, which includes a translation of every term and condition in that contract or agreement.
The courts have repeatedly made clear that California Civil Code section 1632 applies to automobile sales contracts. In a recent unpublished case, Alarcon v. Fireside Bank, (2010) Case Nos. A117148 and A118566, the First Appellate District Court held that a dealer who negotiated the sales contract in Spanish but failed to provide a completely filled-in copy of the contract translated into Spanish, violated California Civil Code section 1632. Consequently, pursuant to section 1632(k), the consumer was given the opportunity to rescind the contract. In Reyes v. Superior Court, (1981) 118 Cal. App. 3d 159, the court held that a borrower in an automobile loan transaction who is entitled to a Spanish translation of his loan contract pursuant to section 1632 is also entitled to a Spanish translation of any deficiency and repossession notice involving the loan contract sent to him pursuant to the requirements of the Automobile Sales Finance Act.
Erica A. Stuckey