Equal Opportunity Act: California Workplace Discrimination Law

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Workplace discrimination is the act of treating someone negatively in the workplace due to a protected characteristic, such as race or gender. Federal laws protect people from workplace discrimination across the country. However, California laws go above and beyond federal regulations, as the state has some of the most robust workplace discrimination laws in the United States.

Who Is Protected By California Workplace Discrimination Laws?

While the federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws protect many types of people, EEO laws in California cover the same classes protected by it and then some. Because of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employers cannot discriminate against applicants or employees based on:

  • Race.
  • Military status.
  • Veteran status.
  • Religion.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Color.
  • Age (particularly people over 40 years old).
  • Nation of origin.
  • Gender expression or identity.
  • Ancestry.
  • Gender or biological sex.
  • Being pregnant or having children.
  • Physical or medical disability.
  • Genetic information.
  • Medical condition.

It's important to note that EEO laws in California protect more than just minorities in each class. For example, employers may not discriminate based on religion whether the religion is Christianity or any minority religion.

Furthermore, employers may not discriminate based on their perception of any of these protected classes. So, even if the employer is wrong about the employee's identity, the employer may still be guilty of discrimination.

What Types of Actions Are Discriminatory?

Many types of actions can constitute discrimination under EEO laws. Discrimination can be overt or subtle. Furthermore, the laws apply to job applicants, interviewees and employees. Below are some examples of ways employers commit discrimination when they base hiring decisions on a person's protected characteristic:

  • Refusing to interview or hire someone.
  • Cutting their hours.
  • Paying less than similar employees.
  • Implementing company policies that affect one population more than others.
  • Enforcing company policies differently.
  • Failing to provide accommodation for a person's needs based on religion or disability.
  • Creating a hostile work environment.
  • Failing to reprimand other employees who discriminate.

Employers should be careful not to discriminate during the application and interview process. They may break EEO laws by asking questions about:

  • Religion.
  • Family status.
  • Ethnicity or nationality.
  • Maiden or married names.
  • Disabilities.
  • Race.

Employers may also violate EEO laws in California by requiring applicants to submit pictures of themselves.

When Do Discrimination Laws Apply?

Some businesses are exempt from EEO laws in California based on the number of employees they have. Generally, organizations are bound by EEO laws in California if they have at least five employees.

At the federal level, businesses must abide by EEO laws if they have at least 15 employees. Federal law makes a few exceptions. For example, organizations cannot discriminate based on age if they have 20 or more employees. Furthermore, all employers must pay men and women equally for the same work.

Filing a Workplace Discrimination Lawsuit in California

Someone who believes an employer has discriminated against them can file a lawsuit at the federal or state level, whichever is applicable. Because California has more robust EEO laws than the United States, some claimants may only be able to sue in California courts.

People who want to file a lawsuit at the state level typically first file a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This helps ensure that the claimant meets the legal standard for exhausting all possible options before filing a lawsuit. Some claimants may also talk to the company's human resources department before filing.

If discrimination continues despite these actions, the person who was discriminated against may sue the offending organization in civil court. Individuals can get assistance from attorneys who specialize in employment law.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Maxwell has always been interested in law, working with legal issues since 2010. She served in Congress for some time, as part of the communications team for Silvestre Reyes and helped constituents understand the laws on the House floor. She stayed active in local politics to understand the laws that govern her area. As a writer, Mackenzie has worked with several lawyers to create thoughtful, helpful content.