For California employees, two basic laws prohibit discrimination in employment – the federal law known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (known by the acronym “FEHA”).
Federal Law – Title VII / ADA / ADEA
Title VII protects employees who are discriminated against on the basis of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual harassment), or pregnancy. Protections for person with disabilities are covered by the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, and age discrimination is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects individuals forty years of age and older. Title VII and the ADA only apply to employers who regularly employ fifteen or more persons (the ADEA requires 20 or more employees).
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act
California’s FEHA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religious creed, national origin, color, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sexual orientation, and sex. FEHA further protects those who are perceived to have characteristics of a protected class and protects the employee from discrimination for associating with individuals who have or are perceived to have those characteristics. FEHA is applicable to employers that regularly employ five or more persons.
Most employment-based discrimination claims require an employer to take an “adverse employment action.” Adverse employment actions include refusing to hire a potential employee, discharging a current employee, promoting certain employees over others, having different compensation arrangements, or any other action that limits, segregates or classifies an employee based on a protected class.
An employee who believes that he or she has been discriminated against must prove that the discrimination occurred because the employee was a member of a protected class. This requirement may be satisfied in several ways, including showing that there are distinctions in employment that expressly use prohibited classifications; by showing that the discrimination was motivated by membership in a protected class; by showing a distinction that perpetuates past segregation and/or discrimination; or by showing that the classification or practice has an unjustifiable discriminatory effect on a protected class.