Legal news and tips for employees, by Law Office of Eugene Lee

Discrimination Laws in California

discrimination laws in californiaBoth 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.


46 Responses to Discrimination Laws in California

  1. Discrimination is real and it hurts. It is difficult because its illegal to get recordings of the proof. It is also difficult because the lawsuits forms are somewhat complex.

  2. I have been a longterm employee at a major hospital forthe past 10years in may, and have currently transferred to another location. I have been at the new location for about 3 months. Long story short i hug another employee whom is a lesbian women once i hugged her she started saying infront of 5 other co workers that ” old boobs hugged me an that she no longer like girls that she officially like boys” she continues to say that ” i dont want old boobs i have young boobs at home i was extremely uncomfortable at this point so i made a call to my manager and told him the situation and that i felt that i was in a hotile work environment and that the employee was using explicit words to describe me and my personal appearance now that i have reported this person she has now said that i sexually assaulted her and has said that im a lesbian and thats all talk about in the department which untrue im a 38year old heterosexual women and mother to a handsome 11year young boy and his father and i are still together. Now there is other facilities calling rhe department asking about the new gay girl im just really uncomfortable,embarrassed and down while im at work. Help. What should i do?

    • I can’t give legal advice but this lady is being mean and abusive to you. It seems she is uncomfortable with the hug affection. Could you not apologize that you made her feel uncomfortable and ask her to stop making fun of you. It is immature and abusive. By the way 38 is still young and don’t let abusers ruin your self esteem. She is just really immature. Next time ask before you hug a co-worker. Hope that helps.

  3. I was just wondering people’s opinion on this situation. I am a female working in a male dominated industry, and I was told by the manager that I don’t belong in the industry. When I discussed my issue with his superior. I was told that his comments were made during a “passionate” argument and I shouldn’t be alarmed. I was upset by the comment and the answer I got from his superior as well…

  4. I belong to the CSEA union. I was under the 6 month probation period and one day 3 weeks ago I was handed a letter that today was my last day of work because I didn’t meet the probation period for that position. I had no warning and they said they didn’t have to give me a reason because it was “at will” employment. This happened 2 days after the election and also I think I may have been discriminated against because of my age (late 50’s). While I was cleaning out my desk I kept asking what the reason was and the woman from HR just said ‘the administration and the district didn’t think it was a fit. I had worked 32 hrs of overtime the month before. The person that hired me left for another site 3 days after I started. I had a new boss who never even bothered to understand what I did at my desk.

  5. Question, Do you think I have a “Discrimination” case?. I worked for a small company of about 20 employees. I would say 2-3 are white. I am one of them. My manager has shown up to work intoxicated with 3 small children and was allowed to finish her shift. (Sat.). She has done this more then once. She has never been suspended., The same with another manager, never suspended. Me on the other hand, I get suspended for missing work due to my daughter almost getting raped in a park. She was 13 years old. I got suspended for not giving them “Any advanced notice”. That was the first time. Second was due to incident during christmas. My employer promised that if we met a quota amt. $20,000. (example) with a week we would get our check BEFORE christmas. I am a single mom, I worked my ass off. Well it didnt happen. He flat out denied it. I was pissed off. I had nothing now for my daughter on christmas morning.So I ranted a little, said this is “Bullshit” in front of maybe 5 employees. I get suspended for 1 week. OK,. not 1 week later my manager gets into an argument with another manager and Im not kidding, she is yelling throughout the office. FU and F this job and F to the Boss, shes yelling throwing things and so on. People had to hold her back from fighting. NEVER GOT SUSPENDED!. Man i could go on. It’s sad because I really enjoyed working there, and I wasn’t raised to be racist. I believe people are all the same, no matter what color!. This is the owners fault, I think?. Ive had to keep notes because Ive felt I was treated differently. Even lunches, they would all go without even asking me. Shit like that.?? What is it?? signed ??n

  6. I was passed over for a promotion that was given to a 24-year old with retail counter experience only and no esthetician license. Is this discrimination? I am a hard-working 63-year old.

  7. If I am declined employment which I am qualified for based on a survey or test do I have the right to the results of that survey or test and the criteria used to make the determination?

  8. place salt outside a doorway during the December holidays as a religious tradition and have do so at m work for the last 18 years. now after a long list of hostile work harassment I am suspended without pay or any documentation, just on a phone call. what can I do?

  9. Co workers are fat shaming me. They Also make rude comments about heavy set people. I’ve talked to my supervisor about the situation, but it continues. I don’t feel comfortable at work, and it has taken a hit on my self esteem.
    What should I do.

    • I am sorry they are shaming you. You are more then your appearance which is shallow. However maybe they actually care about you and don’t want you to die from an early heart attack… They are immature. Simply ask them to stop making fun of you as it is abusive and explain when you can get a fit partner you will start exercising more. Best of luck. This is not legal advice and should not be taken as much. Talk to a lawyer if you want.

  10. I suffer from migrane headaches..i get them to where i have tunnel vision,i see aeras,and i vomit for hours at a time.i have went home on very bad episodes and now my job has written me up..Can this be a type of discrimination against my medical condition?i suffer from chronic migrane…

  11. I just got suspended for a week for being at the office for 2 hours but someone else does the same thing on a daily basis which I brought up to the supervisor, well now they told that person that I informed them of what he was doing and now he’s upset with me. Is that a form of causing a hostile work environment between employees? Is there a law that protects a supervisor and employee’s conversation? Like a confidentiality law?

  12. I went for a interview and at the end of interview I ask about dress code because I am Apostolic Pentecostal and I have been wearing skirts for years. He said he would get back to me. I went for finger prints and he called said I can’t wear a skirt and that he would get back to me about job. What can I do?? this had happened before!

  13. I was hired to work at a major restaurant food chain. I was told I had to wear a black shirt, black pants and black shoes, no facial jewelry or earrings (I have none anyways). I attended my orientation. I was told to come in for my first work day at 9:00am. I arrived and was told by the mgr on duty to come back at 10:30am and that I was not on schedule he was not expecting me and no one would be there to train me until then. I called the manager that hired me to verify and left after 20 min when I did not hear back. She did not get back to me for over an hour and said I was now late, missed most of my training and we would talk later but to get there asap. So I did within minutes. I walked in and now A 3RD manager says I cannot work because my shirt is not BLACK enough and when I come back to work to be sure I have a new one. So I left defeated, but I thought he meant to leave for the day get a new shirt for my next day which was the very next day. Apparently he was expecting me back (for the rest of my 90 min shift) So, I wrote a letter stating what all had happened as I do not think the 3 managers even talked. The manager that hired me said, “ok, I understand and come in tomorrow as scheduled”. That next day the manager that told me to leave to get a different shirt, called and said, “I cannot offer you a job since you walked out, nothing personal”. Do I have any rights here? This company does not pay for or provide comp for clothing, it is my understanding that if they say “dark” clothing it is on me…but “Black, collared etc” then they must provide or pay for and have same expectations for all employees. My shirt was I guess dark Charcoal color. But I can walk in there any day and they have plenty of staff with nose rings, earrings, unhemmed pants frayed at bottom. This feels discriminatory. If I misinterpreted leaving to get a new shirt as come back tomorrow, I had an overwhelming day of nothing but, “I dont know you, your not on schedule, youre late, your in trouble and you are dressed wrong”…seems harsh and if the shirt had never been a pint of contention I would be working there.

    • Maybe you’re better off not working there, sounds like it’s being poorly managed. But putting that aside, first, it sounds like you are owed wages for the time you waited starting at 9 am. You may even be owed a reporting time penalty for having shown up for an agreed shift but then being told to go home early. As for the uniform, if you are able to wear it outside of work or working for another employer, you probably wouldn’t be entitled to any reimbursement for it. In short, you should look into filing a labor board wage violation claim.

  14. Thank you for displaying the difference between federal and state laws.
    Overall, they are extremely different and this information was very valuable
    to know. Additionally, it was nice to see the different degrees of sexual
    harassment that exist and how they are defined. When somebody is experiencing this type of issue at work it can become overwhelming. If the harassed resides in California they should consider a harassment lawyer in Los Angeles.

  15. Im an assistant manager at a big company a woman’s clothing store. When I found out I was pregnant the harassment of another assistant manager started. he started searching for reasons that I was doing my job wrong he would call me names and talk about me to other associates. he would give me other work when I needed to take a break. he would check on me when i was on my break…it goes on…I talked to the store manager and on to the district manager she offered a transfer for me if i was interested, she also said she would take it up to HR, as weeks go by she sits me down and tells me HR decided there was nothing they can do but talk to him and transferring was not an option for either person. HR never bothered to contact me prior to this conversation. basically I needed to brush it off regardless of the stress and being uncomfortable working around this person. A couple months later when I found out I was pregnant another assistant manager also got pregnant and she too became a victim same exact situation. What can I do? What should I do? Theses people are protecting each other and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt.

  16. I am a woman – mid 50’s, considered a professional, executive in my field, with over 20 years experience. I agreed to “mentor” a younger, mid 20’s male, who also happened to be a family member of the CEO. I am now discovering he is receiving a major raise in compensation, bringing him to at least $30 – $50k more per year than I am paid. Is this actionable?

  17. 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?

  18. 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?

    • 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.

  19. 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?

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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?

  24. 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?

  25. Employment Discrimination occurs if administration abnormally individual out advisers or applicants on the base of age, race, gender, sex, animal orientation, civic origin, disability, religion, or assorted added reasons. Federal and accompaniment statutes accomplish up a lot of of the application bigotry laws. Prohibited abominable practices cover bent in hiring and firing; compensation, assignment, or allocation of employees; transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall; job advertisements; recruitment; testing; use of aggregation facilities; training and apprenticeship programs; binding benefits; pay, retirement plans, and affliction leave; retaliation; and assorted types of harassment.
    Orange County Dangerous Products Lawyer

    • 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?

  26. I received a call from my employer today, asking me to go work at a nother location that is 40 miles away from home. They didnt give me a reason on why or for for how long I would be at this location. If I didnt asept the assingment, I would be fired. Does this qualify as discrimination harassment?

  27. 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.

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