There are a number of state and federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination. Anti-discrimination laws in California and at the federal level exist to make sure that individuals are not discriminated or harassed in the workplace because of who they are. Being able to work without unlawful discrimination is a civil right.
California has some of the most comprehensive laws protecting classes of individuals from employment discrimination. The state's Fair Employment and Housing Act or FEHA protects California employees from discrimination based on protected characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability.
History of Anti-Discrimination Legislation in California
Anti-discrimination laws initially gained traction in California with the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act in 1959, which specifically barred employment discrimination and declared all Californians "free and equal." The Fair Employment and Housing Act was amended in 1992 to reflect federal anti-discrimination laws.
In 1993, the California Family Rights Act went into effect granting "secure leave" rights to workers for the birth of a child, the adoption of a child or for bringing home a foster child. California is generally considered an employee friendly state with laws that have been passed to protect workers' rights. Employers have a duty to stay abreast of California's anti-discrimination laws, adopt workplace policies and procedures that are in line with these laws, and to require employees to undergo discrimination awareness and prevention training.
Anti-Discrimination Laws Protecting Classes
The following classes are protected under California's anti-discrimination laws:
Age: It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on his or her age, as long as the person is over 40. This means that age cannot be used as a deciding factor in anything that has to do with hiring, firing, benefits, pay, job duties or training.
Disability: Employers cannot discriminate against someone for actual or perceived disabilities. These disabilities don't have to be visible or even of a physical nature for the person to be protected under California anti-discrimination laws. Disability discrimination attorneys fight vigorously for victims of such acts.
Pregnancy: It is against the law for employers to treat a person unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth or any other related medical condition. California enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to prohibit employers from using pregnancy as a factor in employment decisions.
Race, color or ethnicity: Employers are prohibited from using a person's race, color or ethnicity in an employment decision. When employers become aware that such discrimination is occurring, they are required under the law to stop it and to make sure it does not happen in the future.
Religion: Employers are not allowed to use a person's religion to make an employment decision such as hiring, firing, promotions, training opportunities, etc. Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations for people to take time off for religious holidays as well as uniforms.
National origin: Employers are not allowed to treat employees unfavorably because of where they are from. A person's national origin may refer to a certain country or a certain region of the world such as the Middle East or Asia.
Sex: No employer is allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation when it comes to employment decisions, irrespective of whether they are interviewing job applications or determining which employees to lay off.
Which California Employers Are Subject to Anti-Discrimination Laws?
Nearly all employers are required to abide by federal and state anti-discrimination laws. California's anti-discrimination laws, which are more comprehensive that federal laws, apply to employers with five or more employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that regulates discrimination in the workplace. California's anti-discrimination laws are enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or DFEH. Employers who violate such laws may face a discrimination lawsuit.
Discrimination can originate from almost anyone in the workplace including upper management, supervisors or co-workers. In some cases, discrimination can come from non-employees such as contractors, vendors and customers or clients. Employers can be held liable under the FEHA for discrimination from non-employees if the employer knew or should have known about the discrimination, but did not take immediate action.
What Happens When Employers Violate California Anti-Discrimination Laws?
Employers who violate the FEHA or other California labor laws can be sued by victims in addition to being investigated and penalized by the state. Employees who face discrimination may be entitled to the following legal remedies:
- An award of monetary damages for back pay, lost earnings and future pay
- Statutory damages
- Compensation for out-of-pocket expenses
- Award for pain and suffering or emotional distress caused by the discrimination
- Award of punitive damages if the discrimination was egregious and/or with intent
- Award of attorney's fees and other legal costs
Contact Our Experienced Attorneys
If you have been the victim of employment discrimination or harassment, please contact our experienced LA employment discrimination lawyers at Kingsley and Kingsley Lawyers. We have the experience, knowledge and resources to protect you and bring employers who violate California anti-discrimination laws to justice. Call us to schedule a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.