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Illegal discrimination in the workplace takes a wide variety of forms, some of which many of our clients do not initially think of as “discrimination.” Oftentimes, clients will come to us at Gomez Trial Attorneys complaining of a San Diego workplace situation that just feels wrong. Only after learning about California’s powerful worker protections do they realize that what has happened to them constitutes a clear violation of anti-discrimination laws.
Any San Diego worker who has encountered a situation at work that feels off can benefit from speaking confidentially with an experienced San Diego employment lawyer. In the meantime, below the San Diego personal injury attorneys at Gomez Trial Attorneys answer some of the most Frequently Asked Questions we receive from clients who find themselves in difficult workplace situations.
The scope of the answer to such a short question may surprise you. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and the regulations promulgated under it (available online here), it constitutes illegal “employment discrimination”:
For an employer, because of the race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status of any person, to refuse to hire or employ the person or to refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment, or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.
That is a lot to take in, we know. In a nutshell, it means that anything bad that happens at or in connection with work because of any one of that long list of factors starting with “race, religious creed, color…” etc., constitutes employment discrimination.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer with fifteen or more employees from discriminating on the basis of race, national origin, gender, or religion. The law prohibits employers from taking the following actions:
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of age for any person over the age of 40 by any employer with over 20 employees.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to prevent discrimination against individuals with handicaps. It prohibits discrimination based on a physical or mental handicap by employers with more 15 employees. The Rehabilitation Act applies to all government entities and federal contractors.
Requires an employer who is already subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (the federal wage and hour law) to provide equal pay to men and women performing “equal work”.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act bars employers with more than three employees from discriminating against a U.S. citizen (or an intended citizen like someone who may work legally but is not yet a citizen) on the basis of his or her national origin.
Sure. Taking the definition above as our guide, any of the following can constitute employment discrimination under California law:
By no means does this constitute a comprehensive list. Employment discrimination takes too many forms for us to catalog them all here. The important thing to understand is that the “protected categories” listed in FEHA (“race, religious creed, color…” etc.) can virtually never serve as the explicit or implicit reason for an employer or co-worker to take an action or to make a decision regarding any aspect of a person’s employment. Anything that happens to you at work—even something that someone else might think is “good” for you—on the basis of these factors can constitute illegal discrimination.
We get this kind of question a lot. The fact is, although illegal discrimination runs rampant in every type of workplace in San Diego, oftentimes it does not take a blatantly obvious form. Many workers instead come to us with a sense or a gut feeling that they have not gotten a job, been demoted, passed over, reassigned, or seen a pay-cut, on the basis of something about themselves other than their abilities and work ethic (This is not to say that clear, unmistakeable discrimination does not happen. It does.)
So, our answer to the question above is this: Trust your gut. If it feels like someone with authority took action relating to a job you have or a job you want based on how you look, whom you love, what you believe, how your body functions, or any similar characteristic of your personhood, then you may have experienced illegal discrimination.
To explore your gut feeling further and to figure out your potential rights, talk with an experienced San Diego employment discrimination lawyer. Any conversation you have with an attorney is and will always remain 100 percent confidential, no matter what you decide to do afterward.
As a general matter, you have the right under FEHA to work free from discrimination, and to take legal action against those who discriminated against you. However, how you use and enforce that right can affect your ability to recover the compensation you deserve for the harm discrimination causes. We advise anyone who believes they were illegally discriminated against in any employment-related context to speak with our San Diego employment discrimination attorneys before taking any action that may hurt their rights.
To explain what we mean, it helps to step back and consider some of the options typically available to a person who has experienced work-related discrimination, and how those options may affect the worker’s legal rights.
In addition to the options above having potential legal consequences, employees rightly wonder about the potential practical, real-world consequences of a decision to complain about work-related discrimination. They may have legitimate concerns, for instance, about how a complaint could affect their career path or their relationships with co-workers. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for standing up for his or her rights under FEHA, but that can come as cold comfort to an employee who finds that, even without retaliation happening, merely speaking out can change how the world sees them.
Experienced San Diego employment discrimination attorneys understand the legal and practical issues that accompany taking actions to stop workplace discrimination. They have the know-how to work with employees to figure out the best strategy for protecting the employees’ rights in the particular work circumstances at hand.
The potential outcomes of suing for employment discrimination in California vary from case-to-case, and may depend upon which of the above-steps you and your attorney decide to take, and in what order you take any-or-all of them.
As a general matter, however, legal remedies for employment discrimination can include:
The amount of money damages an employee could receive in a lawsuit can also vary widely. Speak with an experienced San Diego employment discrimination attorney today to determine the potential outcomes of a lawsuit in your situation.
Some acts of employment discrimination affect entire groups or “classes” of workers. For example, if a big box retailer has an “unwritten” policy of not hiring a particular nationality of job applicants, then any applicant affected by that policy has suffered the same basic discriminatory harm. In such cases, lawyers or the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing may file a lawsuit on behalf of the entire group or “class” of people harmed by the discriminatory policy.
This type of lawsuit, called “class action,” can serve as a powerful means for victims of discrimination to speak with a collective voice and to force a change in the employer’s discriminatory policies. Participating or joining in a class action lawsuit may, however, also affect an individual’s rights to take legal action on his or her own. If you have received notice of your potential membership in a “class” of people who were discriminated against, speak with an experienced employment discrimination attorney about its potential effects on your right to seek compensation.
Speak with a San Diego employment discrimination lawyer. Do that first, before deciding to do anything else.
Yes, we know that sounds self-serving. However, protecting yourself against employment discrimination means navigating a potential minefield of legal complications. Missteps can cost you dearly. Experienced attorneys can keep you on the right path.
In other words, unlike other legal situations in which we sometimes advise potential clients to gather evidence, collect contact information from witnesses, and so-on, we do not advise you to do any of those things without first speaking with a lawyer about a potential case of employment discrimination. As we said above, speaking with a lawyer is 100 percent confidential. Your employer and co-workers will never hear from the lawyer without your permission.
As we said, we would prefer that the only thing you do is to speak with our experienced employment law attorneys. However, regardless of when you talk to an attorney, the following actions in response to employment discrimination are usually not a good idea:
We understand. Discrimination in connection with your work can feel like a deep betrayal, and can leave you with a sense of hopelessness and disempowerment. One reason for those feelings is that workplace discrimination virtually always happens in a situation where the person doing the discriminating is more powerful than the person discriminated against.
However, difficult as it may seem, we encourage you to call us and put your trust in the law. Employment discrimination is illegal, and despite the complex process, we can help you take avenues toward justice.
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