Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire, to discharge or to terminate, to refuse to select or to bar or discharge an employee from a training program leading to employment; or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the employee's marital status. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(a).
Marital status is defined as "a(n) individual's state of marriage, non-marriage, divorce or dissolution, separation, widowhood, annulment, or other marital state." 2 Cal. Code Regs. §7292.1(a). For example, an employer was found to have discriminated when it refused to hire unmarried mothers and single people as well as by denying maternity leave to unmarried mothers. Chen v. County of Orange, 96 Cal. 4th 926, 940(2002).
To bring a claim for wrongful termination based on an employee's marital status, the employee must show:
- that the employees has a particular marital status, (i.e., single)
- that the employee's job performance was satisfactory, or that the employee was qualified for the job which they were not hired for,
- that the employee was terminated,
- and that other employees with a different marital status (i.e., who were not single) were not terminated by the employer. (Example: the employee who is bringing the claim is single and lost his or her position to an individual with similar qualifications but who was married).
Employers also cannot refuse to employ a husband or a wife simply because they are both working for the employer as a married couple. See Hope Int'l Univ. v. Sup. Ct. (Rouanzoin), 119 Cal. 4th 719, 724, 743 (2004) ("California's marital status antidiscrimination laws are clear that marriage between two coworkers is not ipso facto a reason to get rid of one of them.") However, an employer may impose "reasonable regulation" over the working of spouses in the same department. Cal. Gov. Code §12940(a)(3)(A). Moreover, employers who terminate employees that have known extramarital affairs are not technically discriminating on the basis of "marital status." Hope Int'l Univ., 119 Cal. 4th at 743.
Finally, an employer may not terminate an employee because the employer disfavors the employee’s spouse. See Chen v. County of Orange, 96 Cal. 4th at 943 (employer may not discriminate against an employed white female solely because she married an African American male).
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