Even though there are state and federal laws in place which prohibit organizations from discriminating against employees because they have certain personal characteristics, this does not mean that workplace discrimination does not occur—or that it is not a relatively common occurrence. Unfortunately, in many cases, employment discrimination can be difficult to define, and even more difficult to prove. If you are treated differently by your boss or employer and you believe it is due to your membership in a protected class of people, then employment discrimination has likely occurred.
To have a meritorious legal claim of workplace discrimination, the employee must establish that they suffered an adverse employment action. Such an action can be many things, including termination, demotion, refusal to promote or provide a pay raise, and can even be things like poor performance reviews that lead to lessened opportunities for the employee.
What Types of Discrimination are Illegal in the State of California?
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against a person based on their:
- Veteran status
- Physical disability
- Mental disability
- Medical condition
- Age (40+)
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Gender expression
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Military status
There are subcategories of these classifications as well. For instance, case law has determined that some of the following characteristics are protected:
- Cultural dress, hygiene practices and activities
- Speaking with an accent
- Hairstyle and head covering when associated with religion or culture
- Association with another who is a member of one of the protected classes
- Perceived membership in a protected class even when the employee is not a member of that class
- Predisposition to a genetic, hereditary or other kind of disease
Typically, California anti-discrimination laws are often far more protective than federal discrimination laws.
What is a Protected Group?
As an example of a protected class, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee because that employee happens to be female, working in a profession which was originally limited to men. An employee also may not be discriminated against because he or she is a Muslim, working among Christians, or because the employee has legally immigrated to the U.S. from another country. Race, color, or ethnicity may not be held against an employee under any circumstances, neither can age over the age of 40. A female employee may not be terminated because of a pregnancy or the need for pregnancy leave.
Proving Employment Discrimination
We at Pedersen Law understand what employers do to attempt to justify their discrimination. All too often we are fighting the employer who has taken action to make the adverse employment action look like anything but unlawful discrimination.
Those who find themselves in the position of having to prove they were discriminated against in the workplace must show they are a member of a protected class, and that they suffered an adverse employment action caused by employer discrimination. The employer often seeks to cover up discrimination by employing several approaches. Some employers claim a reduction in force, or department reorganization causing elimination of the employee’s job. Other employers attempt to prove the employee was terminated for poor performance, even going so far as to falsely document the employee’s file with false and fraudulent documents. Still, other employers comb through the employee file looking for misrepresentations on an application, or other document to try to make the employee look like a liar. In short, the employer, when sued, will do whatever it can to avoid liability. A highly qualified discrimination attorney should be able to show these actions for what they really are—excuses created to cover up discrimination in the workplace.
Protection Against Harassment and Retaliation
Employees are protected, not only against unlawful hiring and firing practices but they are also protected against harassment and discrimination, particularly when the employer is aware of harassment or is perpetrating harassment due to specific, protected characteristics. If the employer has engaged in retaliatory behaviors against an employee because that employee reported prior acts of discrimination, filed a discrimination lawsuit, or participated in an investigation regarding illegal practices, the employee is protected, under the law, from such behavior.
When and Why You Should Speak to a California Discrimination Attorney
Litigating a discrimination claim is complex, and a smart, well-heeled defense attorney can make the process almost impossible to sludge through without experienced and aggressive attorneys on your side. There are important decisions to be made about your case from the outset. For that reason, it is important to find and retain a discrimination attorney as soon as you realize you may have a claim.
Many people believe they have a discrimination case but simply do not have one. There are numerous forms of discrimination that are simply not unlawful. Only discrimination that is based on your membership in a protected class of people is actionable. It is important that you consult early with experienced counsel to determine if the discrimination you are facing will give you legal rights. This is critically important when you realize that you can be lawfully retaliated against for complaining about discrimination that is not unlawful.
It is far better to retain counsel before you file an administrative complaint with a government entity. For instance, the decision as to which entity to file with is important. Most California employees are better off filing with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing rather than the EEOC. However, some employees can only file with the EEOC. You need sound legal advice on that decision.
Furthermore, what is contained in the administrative complaint can have far-reaching consequences on your legal claim. Leaving out a company name or individual, or failing to give reasonable notice of facts in the administrative complaint might foreclose you from making certain legal claims in a lawsuit to follow. An experienced discrimination attorney should assist you in filing and preparing your administrative complaint. At Pedersen Law, we prepare your complaint, have you thoroughly review it, and file it on your behalf.
If you have already filed an administrative complaint, it is not too late to hire competent counsel, but the sooner you do so the better. There are critical time limits for the bringing of a discrimination claim, and you can lose your right to file a lawsuit if you miss one of those deadlines. Consider time is of the essence until you retain an experienced discrimination law attorney.
Finally, it is important that those with a possible discrimination case never sign a release or accept a severance package without first discussing the situation with a discrimination attorney from Pedersen Law. Severance packages invariably contain far-reaching releases of any liability of the company. You need to measure the value of that release before you decide to take the money offered by the company in the form of a severance payment. Let an attorney at Pedersen Law review your severance agreement before you sign away your rights.
If you’ve faced discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, wages and breaks violations, retaliation, or medical leave violations in Southern California, contact our experienced team at Pedersen Law today.