Sometimes it’s subtle, but where it exists, workplace discrimination always has a corrosive effect and can be devastating for the victim. Thankfully, California and federal laws protect employees from discrimination. These laws prohibit employers from taking actions that disadvantage employees because of certain characteristics an employee may have. These include race, religion, disability, sex, and sexual orientation, among other protected categories.
California has some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the country. California employees who are victims of discrimination can recover lost wages and benefits, compensation for mental and psychological pain and suffering, attorney fees, court costs and in some cases, punitive damages. If punitive damages are awarded, the amount of compensation you are awarded could far exceed your compensatory damages.
California’s anti-discrimination law, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (the FEHA), makes it illegal for employers to take any action against an employee because of a number of personal characteristics. Federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also prohibit discrimination on the basis of many of the same characteristics. Other federal and state laws also protect employees from discrimination.
Under the FEHA, it is illegal in California for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of any of the following characteristics:
Federal law also applies most of these protected categories to prohibit employment discrimination.
To prove discrimination, the employee must show that the employer took an “adverse employment action” against the employee (i.e., some action that disadvantages the employee in some way) and that the action was motivated by discrimination. Adverse employment actions take different forms and include:
The Enforcement Process
There are two ways to begin a claim over employment discrimination. At the state level, you can file a written complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within a year of the most recent incident of employment discrimination. The DFEH will decide whether to act on your complaint itself, or to issue you a “right to sue” letter. If it issues a right to sue letter (as it usually does), you will need to handle the lawsuit yourself without help from the DFEH.
If you choose to file a complaint at the federal level, your complaint will go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOCC). The deadline is 300 days of the most recent act of discrimination, and the EEOC will decide whether to issue a right to sue letter or act on its own.
A special procedure exists for federal government employees alleging employment discrimination.
State vs. Federal Action
The decision on whether to file at the state or federal level may rest on legal considerations such as:
All other factors being equal, it is generally better to file a state complaint than to file a federal complaint. You can ask the state or federal agency, however, to forward your complaint to the other agency so that both agencies can consider your complaint at the same time.
Employment Discrimination Claims Can Get Complex
To win an employment discrimination claim, you must first file a well-drafted complaint to the appropriate agency, and you must wait for the agency to respond. You will probably be issued a right to sue letter, at which point you will need to navigate the complex rules of evidence and civil procedure needed to win your claim in a state or federal court.
Wading into this bureaucratic maze all by yourself is like attempting to perform surgery on yourself for a medical condition. Retaining an experienced employment attorney to represent you is one of the most effective ways to maximize your chances of eventually walking away with significant compensation in your bank account.
If You Believe You Are the Victim of Unlawful Discrimination, You Must Act Quickly
It takes time to prepare a strong employment discrimination complaint, and it takes even more time to prosecute a successful lawsuit against your employer. Missing a deadline, either for filing an administrative complaint or initiating a lawsuit, will probably kill your claim. If you suspect that you have been victimized by employment discrimination, now is the time to act. See additional important steps to take if you are being discriminated against at work.
My Other Areas of Practice
In addition to employment discrimination cases, I also handle the following types of claims:
In some cases, an employment discrimination claim will involve similar offenses such as sexual harassment, unpaid wages or pregnancy leave.