Discrimination based on a protected characteristic is prohibited by California Law

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits employers from harassing, demoting, terminating, or otherwise discriminating against any employee on account of that person’s race, religion, national origin, marital status, age, sex/gender, pregnancy, disability, or sexual orientation, gender identity, ad military and veteran status. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(a).

Remember, unequal treatment is only actionable if it is due to discrimination.  Frequently, people mistake unequal treatment for employment discrimination. When you face unequal treatment in the workplace because of personality conflicts, favoritism, or just plain unfairness, the law offers no remedy. The law only provides a remedy when the unequal treatment is a reaction to a person’s protected status, such as when an employer terminates an employee due to that person’s gender, race, religion, age, disability, etc.

Gender Discrimination

In the past several decades there have been major strides toward gender equality, yet discrimination in the workplace continues to affect employees every day.  Sex and gender discrimination laws protect both men and women from issues such as unequal pay, sexual harassment, and positional bias.

For example, State and Federal law forbids unequal treatment based on a person’s gender in any aspect of employment, including:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Pay
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs
  • Training
  • Fringe benefits

Sexual harassment is gender discrimination. Traditionally, women have been the targets of gender discrimination, especially in corporate leadership positions. Today, transgender individuals are often targets of hostile workplace discrimination. Men can suffer from gender discrimination as well, especially in work environments where they are in the minority and have women superiors.

Religious Discrimination

State and Federal laws protect you from religious discrimination in employment. However, many American citizens and permanent residents find their religious freedoms under assault in the workplace. They face discrimination in hiring and advancement and a hostile work environment. They are also denied basic accommodations for their required practices and observances.

  • Hiring — When you apply for a job, it is unlawful for an employer (unless it is a religious association or organization) to ask you about your religious beliefs or practices or whether you are affiliated with a religious institution.
  • At work — It is unlawful for an employer to harass or allow harassment because of an employee’s religious beliefs.
  • Accommodations — Employers must allow reasonable modifications in workplace attire and scheduling to accommodate an employee’s mandatory religious practices, unless such accommodations would cause undue hardship to the business.

Religious discrimination in the workplace can take place in a number of ways, such as:

  • Derogatory comments or depictions regarding members of your religion that lead to the existence of a hostile work environment
  • Scheduling important tests or selection exercises for times that conflict with an employee’s religious practice, such as on a Sabbath day
  • Preventing you from having contact with clients because of religious wear such as a turban, head covering, or yarmulke
  • Forbidding certain hairstyles or clothing related to your religion, such as Rastafarian dreadlocks, Sikh long hair and beard, or a Mennonite head covering
  • Terminating an employee for taking time off work in observance of a religious holiday when that employee followed the proper protocol for requesting leave
  • Mandatory employee programs that involve “new age” concepts such as meditation, yoga, and other practices that are in conflict with your religious beliefs
  • Refusal to accommodate certain religious practices, such as daily prayer or Sabbath observance, when doing so would not present an “unreasonable burden” to the employer
  • Denying employment, promotion, pay raises, or other benefits to employees based on their religious beliefs and practice

Race & National Origin Discrimination

Both State and Federal laws in California protect employees from race and national origin discrimination, including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Race, ethnicity and country of origin are immutable characteristics. Individuals cannot alter the circumstances of their birth. Nor should anyone in the United States — a nation that has drawn immigrants from all over the world — be made to feel unworthy because of those circumstances. On the state and federal level, antidiscrimination law prohibits discrimination in these areas:

  • Hiring
  • Promotions
  • Retention
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Other aspects of employment
Race-based employment discrimination can take many forms, from inappropriate racial remarks to offensive ethnic slurs to firing a current employee or refusing to hire a qualified applicant due to that persons’ race or color. Employment law is very strict in its protection of employees on the basis of race and ethnic appearance. Anyone can be the victim of race bias at work, including Caucasians, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians, Arabs, and multi-racial individuals.



If you believe you are in any way being treated differently because you are not of the same race or ethnicity as your co-workers, or because of your immigrant status, I can help.


Age Discrimination

If you are an employee who is over the age of 40, the law protects you from age-based employment discrimination. California State laws protect older employees, as does the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) amended the ADEA in 1990 and offers even more rigorous protections for older workers. For example, under the OWBPA, employers may not exclude older employees from benefits offered to younger workers.

Despite state and federal statutes prohibiting it, age discrimination is prevalent in the San Francisco Bay Area. Employers often look for excuses to terminate older employees so they can replace them with younger, less expensive workers. Sometimes ageism is subtle; suddenly, you may find yourself with fewer reports, a smaller territory or lower-profile projects. At other times, discrimination may be blatant; you may start receiving negative evaluations that lack substantiation. But regardless of the overt behavior, if the underlying reason for the adverse employment action taken against you is your age, your employer has broken the law.

What does age discrimination look like?

The following are some examples of age-based employment discrimination:

  • Pressuring an older employee to retire whether by constantly asking when he or she plans to do so or by threatening to fire the employee if he or she does not retire
  • Forcing an older employee to retire
  • Cutting older employees with the highest salaries before younger employees
  • Promoting a younger person rather than the older worker
  • Making comments about wanting “fresh faces” or “youthful energy” in the office
  • Refusing to hire an otherwise qualified employee based on his or her age
  • The boss consistently socializes with younger workers or gives them the best job opportunities, or otherwise displays a preference against older employees
  • Not permitting an older employee to learn new skills or attend training

Pregnancy Discrimination

An employer may not:

  • Fire a female employee because she is pregnant
  • Refuse to hire an otherwise qualified woman because she is pregnant
  • Require a pregnant employee to bring a doctor’s note verifying her inability to work when other employees are not required to follow similar protocol if they are injured or ill
  • Fail to restore an employee who just returned from pregnancy leave to her former position or one like it
  • Treat an employee differently because she is pregnant, including demoting her, decreasing her hours, or removing privileges / responsibilities
  • Enact a rule that employees may not return to work for a certain amount of time before or after giving birth
  • Penalize an employee who takes time off for prenatal doctor appointments when other employees are not penalized when they leave for medical reasons
  • Ignore an employee who is otherwise qualified for a promotion or pay raise because she is pregnant

Disability Discrimination

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to allow a disabled person who is otherwise qualified for a position to do the job. Employers must not discriminate against disabled individuals who can perform the required job responsibilities simply to avoid the costs of accommodation. The law also prohibits harassment in the workplace on the basis of an employee’s disability.

What does disability discrimination look like?

Discrimination against a disability or perceived disability may occur in one of numerous ways. In some instances, a manger or executive may make a derogatory comment about an employee’s disability and subsequently penalize them; although it may be claimed that the employee’s disability had nothing to do with the decision to admonish their work performance, the inappropriate comment would indicate otherwise. One of the most common ways disability discrimination manifests, however, is when an employee will not accommodate a disabled employee within reason, which causes them to fail at essential job functions as described in their employment contracts.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

When an individual is treated differently based on their sexual orientation, it is considered discrimination. This may occur against individuals who are homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. There have been more and more cases of this type of discrimination coming forward in the workplace. It can occur in recruitment, hiring, promotions, and even job training and assignments.

California has made significant strides in protecting the rights for or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, yet many LGBTQ individuals have faced wrongful termination or constructive discharge due to their sexual orientation.  Still others have been unable to continue working because a hostile environment makes work intolerable.I understand the importance of protecting and enforcing the rights of individuals, who because of their sexual orientation, often face unfair treatment.

Some common examples of sexual discrimination include:

  • You are denied benefits for your partner because they are the same sex as you.
  • Your boss fires you because they think you are gay, bisexual, straight, or lesbian.
  • Your employer treats you different after learning about your sexual orientation.
  • You suffer harassment at the workplace due to your sexual activity.
  • You are treated more harshly or denied benefits or bonuses due to your sexual preferences.

It is important to understand that discrimination can often be subtle. If you have repeatedly been passed over for a promotion when less qualified, straight people have not, or if you have received poor evaluations for minor or trivial things, these may be discriminatory behaviors that would give rise to a viable claim for sexual orientation discrimination. It is equally important to understand that if you have filed a complaint with your human resources department or supervisor and then have been punished for making that complaint, you may also be the victim of retaliation, which is also illegal.