Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer

Employment discrimination law in California: your rights

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Nearly every day, people across California lose their jobs for reasons that have little, if anything, to do with their job performance. From an employment law perspective, the trick is figuring out if your boss broke the law when they fired you, or just acted like a jerk.

Employment Discrimination And The Law

In general, the law gives California employers a lot of leeway in hiring or firing decisions. The most important exceptions come from anti-employment discrimination laws at the federal and state level, especially the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

These laws prohibit most employers from committing discrimination in hiring, promotions, raises, job termination and so on based on an employee being a part of a protected class. A "protected class" is a group of people who benefit from a particular law, usually because that group has suffered from discrimination in the past (and often still does today).

Here are some examples of reasons for which you cannot be fired:

  • Your race or ethnicity
  • What country you were born in
  • Immigration status
  • Your gender
  • Whether or not you are pregnant
  • Your age
  • Your sexual orientation
  • Any disability or medical condition you have
  • Military or veteran status

California is arguably more pro-employee than most states, and goes beyond federal law. As you can see, this list does not protect you from being discriminated against because of a personality conflict with your supervisor, or because the boss promotes her nephew instead of you. What happened to you may have been completely unfair, but to know whether you have a legal claim for compensation, you need to discuss your experience with an attorney.

The Possible Remedies

A successful employment discrimination claim is meant to put you in the same (or similar) position as you would have been had you not been discriminated against. Most of the time, this means getting compensated for the income and benefits you were illegally denied. But in some cases, the plaintiff instead is given the job they sought. Beyond compensatory damages, the jury may also choose to award punitive damages if the employer's conduct was especially egregious.

Perhaps most of all, by taking action against the company you will be fighting to expose its behavior and force it to change its employment policies.

Your best chance of prevailing is to retain an experienced employment law attorney. Without a lawyer's effort and guidance, your chances of making a successful claim with the EEOC or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or filing a strong lawsuit, are quite low. Together, you and your attorney will build a persuasive case and work to resolve the matter as fairly and efficiently as possible.

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