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legal news & tips for employees published by Law Office of Eugene Lee

Discrimination Laws in California

Both Federal and California laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s “protected characteristics”. Under California’s broad, pro-employee laws (perhaps the best in the US), “protected characteristics” mean: “race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation”.

Types of Discrimination

Discrimination comes in many flavors. There is “disparate treatment” and “disparate impact” discrimination – meaning an employee is treated differently because they are a member of a protected class.

“Disparate treatment” involves employer actions, e.g., promotion and termination, that single an employee because of a protected characteristic, e.g., only older workers are laid off or only males are promoted.

“Disparate impact” involves employer policies that have a disproportionate adverse effect on a protected characteristic group, e.g., a company policy of counting all absences and leaves against seniority that has a disproportionate adverse impact on women who have to take time off for pregnancy.

Then there is “harassment”, meaning harassing conduct such as slurs, touching, unwanted advances, intimidation, etc., because of the employee’s protected characteristic.

Harassment can be “hostile work environment” harassment, meaning harassing conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a work environment that is hostile or abusive.

And in the case of sexual harassment, harassment can be “quid pro quo” (Latin for “this in exchange for that”), which refers to a situation where the employee’s supervisor has conditioned job benefits, such as a promotion or continuation of employment, on the employee’s accepting the supervisor’s sexual advances or conduct, e.g., a supervisor forcing a subordinate to sleep with him to keep her job or get a promotion.

If the harasser is the employee’s supervisor, the employer will be held strictly liable for the supervisor’s misconduct. If the harasser is the employee’s co-worker, however, the employer will be held liable only if a supervisor knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

Federal versus State laws

Federal law, which includes the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is generally less favorable to employees than California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which doesn’t have damage caps, limited attorney fee provisions, restrictive legal burdens of proof or special employer defenses.

Also, federal law typically requires the employee to file an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within a mere 180 days from the date of the discriminatory violation whereas California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act gives the employee 1 year to file such a charge with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH).

Damage Awards

An employee who wins a discrimination lawsuit is entitled to recover several types of compensation, such as lost wages, emotional distress, litigation costs and statutory attorney fees. An employee could also recover punitive damages which are designed not to compensate the employee but to deter and punish the employer.


Discrimination laws, especially in California, offer powerful and effective protections for employees. However, discrimination laws are changing constantly, sometimes day-by-day, and can be difficult to navigate. If you think you have a discrimination case, do not wait. Strict time limits may apply. Contact a lawyer right away.

  • Legal Aid

    If you think you are being discriminated against, it is best to consult a discrimination lawyer. Victims are protected by laws against discriminatory acts of employers.

  • Lawsuit Loans

    Good advice, the picture almost makes me feel violated. Hopefully the stock photo company wasn’t sued for discrimination

  • Martin Dack

    You have provided some very good point regarding Discrimination and related facts and the associated legal action.

  • Admin

    If an employer in California sells only items for females and they want to only hire females, and we say we are only looking for females is this discrimination?

    Also if we specifically look for females that speak Spanish and English, are we discriminating?

    I see a company only hires Asians and its obvious, how can such a company exist?

  • Summerhathway

    In this post law is so discriminated law..

  • lulu

    It is against my religion to work on sundays. My boss says that I am required to work at lest one sunday a month. Is this legal?

  • Hr Solutions

    whenever you feel any kind of discrimination or harassment in your workplace you should definitely take initiative to resolve this..  

  • lupita

    my hours have been cut for an entire month, because of a non-smoking policy with my employer. My manager saw me smoking a cigarrette as i walked to my car at the end of my shift on my way home. What labor code can i refer to?

  • Jordan West

    This is a great post, thanks for sharing. I think this is a big problem
    in a lot of companies. I worked in california seo and didn’t have any
    problems. Do you think males cause more problems than females?

  • dablueslover

    Disabled Vet. hurt on the job, resulting in injuries so severe to his spine, left 100% disabled. Living in an RV Park in a 5th wheel trailer, only rental the former Studio Transportation Driver( Teamsters local 399) could afford. Was evicted without due process, rent paid 4/2/12, due 4/6/12, on 4/16/12 he was taken to a hospital, and his wife(Thai) was told to be out by 10 am the next morning. Employees of the RV Park removed all of possessions, to storage, or threw away things that could not go to storage. This man was waiting for authorization for surgery by workers comp. but all they did is deny, deny, deny. His back condition is so severe he had surgery at C-4 thru T-1, needs surgery at T-10, T-11 with end plate damage, disk problems, also needs surgery from L-3 thru L-5,S-1, 2 levels have no disks, L-5,S-1 failed fusion from 2004, and is living with unremitting pain since atleast 2007. What is someone like this to do, besides jump off a bridge? He has tried to obtain an attorney but because his 2,4,5,6,11,14 constitutional amendments were violated it’s too complicated for anyone to bother with.

  • Guest

    Let’s be honest. We would all grab that ass if we could.

  • John Howard

    Thanks for all of the great information about employment discrimination. I took a human resources class last semester and we talked about employment discrimination. It would be really interesting to deal with this issue on a daily bases.

  • Dani ankrum

    My boss is cutting hours down to 2 days a week for all employees who have a second job and telling us we can never request a day off. I work at a pizza delivery company that has always been based on working around jobs and school schedules, how can they legally do this?

  • Jeff Tee

    I’m a male and I went and got my manicure license last year. I worked a couple of jobs and am looking for a new job. I’m finding that many nail salons say they don’t hire men at all, and some won’t let men do pedicures (which is the most lucrative part of the business). Is this legal? What can I do about it if it’s not?

  • Melissa

    My job laid me off because of my pregnancy and I wanted to know what im entitled to for them doing so?

    • Eugene Lee

      If your employer has 5 or more employees (and if you can prove that you were laid off because of your pregnancy), then that is illegal and you can file a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination.

  • joe

    My boss is an old school European male..I’m his first female he hired to lead his crew in 3 years. He went through 5 leaders before me…he favors my assistant because he’s a male..he gives me a hard time, says certain things unnecessary, very rudely, uncalled for, gives compliments to my assistant, etc. All my colleagues knows he’s treating me differently, and my assistant knows he’s a sexist. I feel disgusted. What can I do without him going crazy on me since he has a temper for no reason?

  • Jack

    I have been at my part-time (3 days per week) job in a golf shop for over 10 years. 2 years ago the company brought in a new manager. He has let go all of the employees with any experience and were full time. I worked with him by taking on more days and hours. He has hired all new part-timers and now has cut me to 1 day a week. He has foolishly let it be known that he’s trying to get the “old” guys to retire — he has no intention of paying unemployment.
    Is this age discrimination?