The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides employees broad protections against wrongful terminations based on race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability or medical condition, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, and pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
An employer must also “take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring,” if not the employer is engaging in an unlawful employment practice.
If an employer states that the employee was terminated because the company was downsizing, such a reason alone is not necessarily a sufficient explanation under FEHA.
What You Should Do
- Ask Why:Demand that your employer explain why they took an adverse employment action against you (e.g., terminated you; demoted you; cut your hours), preferably in writing.
- Don’t Sign Anything:Upon suffering an adverse employment action such as a termination, you should resist rushing to sign any documents such as a severance agreement or a release agreement. Signing such documents can impact your long-term rights and interests. Beware of pressure for quick signing and always demand to have the opportunity to review such document on your own time away from the pressures of the workplace. An employment attorney can help clarify these documents and potentially negotiate more favorable terms.
- Written Records:Maintain a personal record of incidents related to discrimination, including dates, times, locations, and the names of individuals involved. Keep a detailed log of discriminatory comments, actions, and any adverse treatment experienced in the workplace.
- Employment Policies and Handbook: Obtain a copy of the company’s employment policies, procedures, and employee handbook. Highlight any policies that are relevant to the discrimination you experienced, as well as any policies that the employer violated during the discriminatory actions.
- Emails and Correspondence: Preserve relevant emails, text messages, or written communication that may demonstrate discriminatory behavior or reveal discriminatory intent. This could include discriminatory comments made by supervisors, managers, or coworkers.
- Performance Reviews and Evaluations: Gather copies of your performance reviews and evaluations. If you have consistently received positive reviews in the past and suddenly faced negative treatment after reporting discrimination or for other discriminatory reasons, it could be helpful evidence.
- Pay and Promotion Records: Gather records related to your salary, wages, bonuses, and any promotions or job opportunities you were denied. If there is a pattern of unequal pay or discriminatory promotion decisions, it can be important evidence.
- Comparison with Others: Compare your treatment with that of similarly situated colleagues (e.g., same or similar position) who are not members of the same protected class (e.g., race, gender, age, etc.). If you can show that similarly situated employees outside your protected class received more favorable treatment, it may indicate discrimination.
- Witness Information: Obtain contact information for coworkers who can testify to your experiences or the discriminatory practices in the workplace.
- Photos or Videos: If applicable, take photos or videos that document discriminatory practices, such as offensive posters or symbols, or events that contribute to a hostile work environment.
- Complaints and Responses: Keep copies of any complaints you made about discrimination to HR or management, as well as any responses you received. This includes emails, letters, or other forms of communication regarding your complaints.
Remember to always gather evidence discreetly and within the bounds of company policies. If you believe you have been a victim of workplace discrimination, you should consult with an experienced employment law attorney who can guide you on your rights, the types of evidence you should gather, and the appropriate steps to take to protect your rights.
How a California Workplace Discrimination Attorney Could Help
Employers usually have extensive resources including HR and lawyers to protect their interests. Having an employment attorney by your side will help you level the playing field. A seasoned employment attorney can assist you in several key areas:
- Legal Advice: Your attorney can offer informed guidance on your rights and potential legal actions.
- Filing Complaints: Your attorney can support you in filing a detailed discrimination complaint with the proper agency, such as the California Civil Rights Department or the EEOC.
- Evidence Gathering: Your attorney can help uncover evidence, even if it’s subtle, to support your case.
- Negotiation: Your attorney can handle talks with employers to obtain fair compensation.
- Litigation: If required, your attorney can prepare and file your lawsuit and skillfully represent you in court.
Examples of Workplace Discrimination
- Age Discrimination: An experienced employee, who is over the age of 50, is consistently passed over for promotions in favor of younger and less-experienced colleagues. The employer believes that younger employees are more adaptable to new technologies, leading to the discriminatory treatment of the older employee.
- Gender Discrimination: A female employee is consistently paid less than her male counterparts despite having similar qualifications and job responsibilities. The employer’s discriminatory pay practices are based solely on gender, resulting in unequal pay for equal work.
- Race Discrimination: A qualified employee of a minority racial group is denied opportunities for advancement and is excluded from important company projects because of their race. The employer favors employees of a different race for these opportunities, resulting in race-based discrimination.
- Pregnancy Discrimination: An employer terminates an employee’s employment after learning about her pregnancy. The employer assumes that her pregnancy will interfere with her job performance, resulting in pregnancy-based discrimination.
- Disability Discrimination: A qualified applicant with a disability is denied a job position despite being capable of performing the essential functions of the job with reasonable accommodations. The employer refuses to provide the necessary accommodations, leading to disability-based discrimination.
- Religious Discrimination: An employee is consistently subjected to derogatory comments and unwarranted disciplinary actions because of their religious beliefs. The employer fosters a hostile work environment based on religion, which violates FEHA's prohibition against religious discrimination.
- National Origin Discrimination: An employer refuses to hire individuals from a particular nationality, assuming they may not be proficient in English or that they might not fit into the company culture. This hiring practice constitutes national origin-based discrimination.
- Sexual Orientation Discrimination: An openly gay employee faces verbal harassment and negative treatment from coworkers and supervisors because of their sexual orientation. The employer fails to take appropriate action to address the hostile work environment, leading to sexual orientation-based discrimination.
- Gender Identity Discrimination: A transgender employee is denied access to restroom facilities consistent with their gender identity, causing distress and discomfort. The employer’s policy of restricting restroom access based on sex assigned at birth violates FEHA’s prohibition against gender identity discrimination.
Marital Status Discrimination: An employer promotes the married employees but ignores the qualifications and achievements of unmarried employees with similar or superior performance. The employer’s preference for married individuals over unmarried individuals constitutes marital status-based discrimination.