It is against the law for an employer in California to discriminate against a protected class of employees or applicants. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USC §§2000e—2000e-17) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Govt C §§12900-12996) are the principal legislation in this field and the most frequent bases of discrimination lawsuits. Most of the antidiscrimination laws protect almost the entire spectrum of applicants and employees. For example, gender antidiscrimination laws protect males as well as females from being discriminated against on the basis of gender, and race antidiscrimination laws protect individuals of all races.

This includes (but is not limited to) discrimination against employees and applicants based on:

  • Race/Color - Race discrimination is when a job applicant or employee is mistreated due to their race or because they have characteristics that are associated with a certain race. Color discrimination is when a person is unfairly treated specifically because of their complexion.

  • National Origin - National origin discrimination is when an employer treats an applicant or employee unfairly based on their country or origin or region of the world, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background.

  • Age - The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and FEHA protect employees aged 40 and older from age-related bias in the workplace. Furthermore, the Older Worker’s Benefit Protection Act prohibits employers from calculating benefits based on a worker’s age

  • Disability - Employers may not discriminate against capable employees regardless of disability and must make reasonable accommodations for disabilities.

  • Medical condition - It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against a person because of a medical condition. Employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees with a medical condition, unless doing so would result in undue hardship. Employees who are discriminated against based on their medical condition can file a lawsuit against their employer for damages.

  • Gender - This type of discrimination is most often associated with women, but does overlap and provide protections against pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and gender identity discrimination.

  • Gender Identity - FEHA makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or applicant because they are, or are perceived to be, transgender or gender non-conforming.

  • Sexual Orientation - FEHA defines sexual orientation as “homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual.” The law prohibits discrimination based on “actual or perceived” sexual orientation, which means that you are protected from sexual-orientation-based harassment or discrimination even if your employer is mistaken about your sexual orientation.

  • Pregnancy - Employers may not discriminate against a pregnant woman in hiring or on-the-job situations. An employer is also required to provide leave to a pregnant woman. Refusing pregnancy leave, denying promotion to an expectant mother, and eliminating a pregnant woman’s position are all considered forms of pregnancy discrimination.

  • Religion - Laws prohibiting religious discrimination protects people who belong to traditional religions, as well as those who have other religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.

FEHA applies to employers who have 5 or more employees (except in cases of harassment, in which case there is no minimum employer size). The law also applies to employment agencies, labor unions, state licensing boards and state and local governments. Federal and local laws have different restrictions, so it is important that you consult with a knowledgeable employment attorney to determine what potential causes of action are available. However, FEHA provides no protection for federal employees.

California recently increased the statute of limitations for filing a charge under FEHA so that employees have three years, rather than one year, from the last adverse employment action. Still, we recommend that employees not delay in pursuing claims because valuable information and witnesses may be lost with time and memory.

Call our office at (916) 742-2220 if you have been involved in workplace discrimination.