We’ve Done it All
Workplace Legal represents employers, high-level executives, and professionals in discrimination, harassment, and retaliation lawsuits in state and federal courts across California. Our attorneys have focused their practices on these issues for decades, and have litigated cases involving claims of age, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS, gender expression, disability, and religious discrimination and harassment. We have also handled every type of retaliation claim, from “whistleblower” retaliation to sexual harassment complaint retaliation to Labor Code Section 98.6 retaliation for opposing illegal pay practices.
In some instances, claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are not heard in a courtroom. Employees sometimes prefer to bring these claims to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). These are the federal and state agencies responsible for enforcing equal employment opportunity laws, and they have the legal authority to investigate and adjudicate these types of claims. Workplace Legal has represented clients before both the EEOC and DFEH, guiding them through the agency’s investigative process and then representing the client in any mediation or litigation that follows.
We also conduct sexual and other harassment prevention training seminars to help employers comply with California law. Our trainings focus on what is (and is not) harassment and guide employers on how to prevent harassment, how to recognize it, how to report and investigate it, and how to respond to both the complaining employee and the accused employee, both during the investigation and after it concludes.
“Protected Classes” under Federal and State Law
Both federal law and California state law prohibit employers from discriminating against and/or harassing an employee on the basis of the employee’s:
- National Origin
- Sex (including pregnancy)
- Age (40 or older)
- Citizenship status
- Military status
- Genetic information
But California’s state non-discrimination law, known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), goes further and prohibits employers from discriminating against and/or harassing an employee on any of these additional bases:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Gender expression
- Medical condition (including HIV/AIDS)
- Marital status
- Political affiliations or activities
- Natural hairstyles
- The employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence or stalking
What is Discrimination?
When an employer treats an employee or applicant differently on the basis of any of the above classes, then that employer may be liable for unlawful discrimination. The employer may also be liable for the “failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination,” which is a separate claim in California. An employer’s employee handbook and legally-required non-discrimination policy, among other factors, will play a critical role in determining the employer’s liability in a discrimination case.
What is Retaliation?
California employers are also prohibited from unlawfully retaliating against employees. Retaliation is a form of discrimination and occurs when an employer fires, disciplines, or otherwise takes “adverse employment action” against an employee because she/he engaged in a “protected activity.” Protected activities include things like:
- Opposing illegal or unethical business practices
- Filing a harassment or discrimination charge with the EEOC (federal) or DFEH (state)
- Participating in sexual harassment or discrimination investigations
- Pointing out illegal pay practices or employment policies
- Communicating with a boss about alleged discrimination or harassment
- Requesting a reasonable accommodation
- Asking about employee salary information in order to determine if the employer is violating state or federal Equal Pay Act laws
If a California employee is engaged in these types of behaviors, and if that employee later is terminated or demoted or suffers other adverse employment action, then that employer may be liable for unlawful retaliation.
What is Harassment?
When a California employer, supervisor, or co-worker harasses or “bullies” an applicant or employee on the basis of any of the above classes, and when that harassing behavior is so severe and pervasive that it alters the terms and conditions of employment, then that employer may be liable for unlawful harassment. The employer may also be liable for the “failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent harassment,” which is a separate claim in California. An employer’s employee handbook, legally-required anti-harassment policy, and the employer’s compliance with California’s mandatory employee sexual harassment training requirements, among other factors, will play a critical role in determining the employer’s liability in a harassment case.
We Can Help
Workplace Legal knows discrimination, harassment, and retaliation law. We have litigated these cases, counseled clients on these issues, and conducted sexual harassment prevention training courses and seminars. If you have questions or need help on a discrimination, harassment, or retaliation matter, we can help.