Both federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and state law (the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or “FEHA”) prohibit harassment and discrimination on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. But California goes further and adds the following additional protected classes – sexual orientation, gender identity, breastfeeding, gender expression, AIDS/HIV, marital status, military or veteran status, political affiliations or activities, and your status as a victim of domestic violence or stalking.
When a California employer treats an employee differently because of her/his race, color, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or any other protected classification, then that employer may be liable for unlawful discrimination. The employer may also be liable for failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination, which is a separate claim in California. An employer’s employee handbook, non-discrimination policy, discrimination reporting procedures, and other HR policies and procedures will be key to the employer’s defense in a failure to prevent discrimination action.
Similarly, when a California employer engages in harassing behavior that is targeted at someone because of their race, color, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or any other protected classification, 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 failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent harassment, which is a separate claim in California. An employer’s employee handbook, harassment policy, harassment reporting procedures, and prior harassment training history will be key to the employer’s defense in a failure to prevent harassment action.
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, applicant, or other covered individual because she/he engaged in a “protected activity.” Protected activities include things like opposing illegal or unethical business practices; filing a sexual harassment or discrimination charge with the EEOC (federal) or DFEH (state); participating in sexual harassment or discrimination investigations; communicating with a boss or other company employees about employment discrimination or harassment; requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious purpose; and asking managers or co-workers about employee salary information in order to determine if the employer is possibly violating 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.
Workplace Legal represents employers, high-level executives, and professionals in discrimination, harassment, and retaliation disputes in state and federal courts across California. We also represent clients before the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), and in contractual arbitration and meditations before private arbitrators and mediators. We also conduct sexual and other harassment training seminars for employers to educate your employees about harassment – including what is (and is not) harassment, how to prevent it, how to recognize it, how to report it, how to investigate it, and how to respond to both the complaining employee and the accused employee both during the investigation and after it concludes.