Employment discrimination under federal and California laws

California’s anti-discrimination laws are known to be particularly strong as compared with those of other states.

Being a victim of illegal discrimination at work based on race or ethnicity can have a negative impact on mental health such as causing depression or degrading self esteem, according to a study of hospital employees described in the journal Race and Social Problems.

Being the target of unlawful sex discrimination in employment is correlated with the risk of drug use as a coping mechanism, reports another study published in Womens Health Issues, which also reviewed previous research that gender discrimination can cause depression, distress and anxiety as well as physical problems.

Many, many similar studies are publicly available about how discrimination - the negative treatment of people based on immutable characteristics like race, gender or disability or major life choices like religion - harms individual victims and society as a whole. Appropriately, both federal and California laws make employment discrimination based on important characteristics illegal and provide legal remedies for redress.

For example, the bases on which discrimination in the workplace are forbidden include:

  • Race, color, national origin and ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Sex, including pregnancy and sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and transgender status
  • Age (at least 40)
  • Disability, including medical conditions
  • Genetic information

In addition to discrimination, harassment based on protected characteristics is also illegal, including sexual or racial harassment.

Sometimes an employer must make reasonable accommodation for a protected characteristic if the employee is otherwise qualified for the job. For example, a work station may be adjusted to allow a person with a physical disability to perform the job or a person whose religious expression includes certain dress or grooming practices may be allowed to follow them even if otherwise forbidden.

Another important aspect of anti-discrimination law is that an employer may not retaliate against an employee who has reported or filed a claim for discrimination or harassment, or cooperated in a related investigation or lawsuit. Examples of such retaliation may include negative acts like firing, harassment or demotion.

While federal anti-discrimination laws apply generally to private employers with at least 15 employees, California prohibitions reach even smaller private employers with five or more employees and even with only one employee in cases of harassment.

Employment discrimination is an extremely complex area of law so it is a good idea for a victim to consult an experienced attorney as early as possible to get advice about communication with the employer and to understand potential legal rights and remedies that could include a federal or state agency complaint or lawsuit. The interaction between federal and state agencies, courts and laws is another complex aspect of anti-discrimination law, which also requires following specific procedures, including meeting deadlines and providing notices.

From his office in San Francisco, attorney Daniel Feder of The Law Offices of Daniel Feder represents workers in discrimination and harassment cases in the Bay Area and throughout Northern California.