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Employees can fight back against workplace discrimination

Employees in California continue to face discrimination on the job, despite laws that prohibit the practice at federal, state and local levels. Employers may not discriminate in hiring, promotion or termination on the basis of protected characteristics, which include race, sex, disability, religion, age and in many cases sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, sexual harassment is also prohibited in the workplace. At the federal level, affected employees must show that their jobs were directly under threat or that they were subject to severe or pervasive conduct, whether a single extreme incident or an ongoing offensive climate.

However, state laws often provide a higher level of protection. The Omnibus Sexual Harassment bill in California provides greater rights for employees subject to sexual harassment on the job. In addition, workers also have the right to be free of retaliation for reporting harassment and discrimination. Despite this, many employees fear making a complaint about this type of misconduct because they worry that their employer will find an excuse to terminate them or demote them to a lower position.

Study says workplace discrimination still prevalent

A survey by online company review site Glassdoor indicates that 61% of employees in California and across the country have experienced or witnessed discriminatory behavior in the workplace. The study included more than 1,100 employees and asked about discrimination that was based on gender, race, LGBTQ identification or age. Nationwide, 42% of those who responded said they had witnessed racism at work, and 45% said they'd witnessed discrimination based on age.

Breaking down the data further, male employees in the U.S. are more likely than female employees to experience or witness discrimination in the workplace. Fifty percent of the men who responded said they'd experienced or witnessed age discrimination, compared to 38% of women. Thirty-eight percent of men said they'd experienced or witnessed discrimination based on LGBTQ identification, compared to only 28% of women. Additionally, younger employees are more likely to have experiences of discriminatory behavior at work, with more than half of workers between 18 and 34 years old saying they've seen gender discrimination occur. For workers aged 55 years or older, that percentage was 29%.

Supreme Court to hear age discrimination case

The outcome of a Supreme Court case coming forward this term could have an impact on how federal workers in California fight back against age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967, forbade discrimination on the basis of age for workers. However, appeals courts have split over the definition of actionable age discrimination. Some courts argue that workers must only show that age bias was one contributing factor in a negative decision about employment, promotion, termination or another employment-related decision. It does not need to be the only factor or even the primary one.

On the other hand, other federal appeals courts have ruled that, in order to prevail, workers must show that age discrimination was the determining factor in the negative employment actions they suffered. In a case in which a pharmacist is suing the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Supreme Court will put forward its interpretation of the law. The case involves a female pharmacist over 50 who alleges that she suffered age discrimination as well as retaliation for supporting co-workers' claims of sex discrimination.

Women workers fight discrimination on the job

The definition of sex discrimination has become a significant legal issue in California courts and those across the country. Many federal appeals courts have upheld an understanding of sex discrimination that also prohibits discriminating against LGBT workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the Trump administration's Justice Department and other legal authorities disagree, and the Supreme Court is hearing several cases on the matter. However, traditional sex discrimination cases continue to reflect major problems experienced by women workers across the country.

High-profile sexual harassment cases in entertainment, politics and technology have drawn some attention to the hardships that women continue to face on the job despite decades of civil rights legislation and many significant cases upholding women's rights at work. However, women may face a wide range of issues that are not limited to unwanted sexual advances at work. Many of these claims never even reach a formal complaint, let alone go to court. Workers who are not represented often fear that they will be subject to retaliation if they complain, and their fears are far from unfounded. Those workers who do pursue claims need to confront changes to the legal process in the past 10 years that put more obstacles in front of employees fighting workplace discrimination.

EEOC sides with workers alleging Facebook job ads discriminate

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a groundbreaking decision concerning complaints of discrimination against employers that used Facebook advertising to discriminate against women and older people. Multiple complaints filed by Facebook users against 66 companies prompted the commission to agree that the demographic targeting system within Facebook advertising tools enabled discrimination against job seekers in California and nationwide.

A lawyer representing plaintiffs in seven of the cases praised the decision of the EEOC because it affirmed that civil rights law applied on digital advertising platforms. The discrimination arose from employers setting parameters for job ads that only displayed the messages on Facebook to users who were men under the age of 55. Filtering out specific demographic segments represented violations of the Civil Rights Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The decision from the EEOC could enable the workers who experienced discrimination to win settlements eventually.

Employees claim Google engaged in retaliation

Ideally, employees in California and throughout the country would not hesitate to report instances of harassment and discrimination to their employers. However, this is typically not the case at Google as workers there say that they were retaliated against after filing complaints with HR. Employees said that they were taken off of projects or reassigned elsewhere in the company. A memo said that the company generally chose to hide sexual harassment complaints when they involved members of the management team.

In November 2018, roughly 20,000 employees took part in a walkout to protest its handling of executives accused of sexual assault. Prior to the walkout, it had been revealed that those executives had been paid more than $100 million. In response, Google said that it would make changes to its sexual harassment reporting policies and show greater support for those who reported it.

Study shows harassment not dampened by MeToo

A university study indicates that California workplaces may not have been positively impacted by the MeToo movement. The study included surveys of both men and women at the peak of the MeToo movement in 2018 and then similar surveys in 2019 once the movement had cooled. In the 2019 survey, 27% of men said they were more likely to avoid having one on one meetings with female coworkers, and 21% said they were more reluctant to bring on new female employees for positions where close interaction was required.

Additionally, 19% of the men surveyed said they were more reluctant to hire attractive women. All three of those figures had increased over the 2018 survey, where they were each around 15%. Many of the men surveyed said they had increased difficulty in identifying behavior that qualified as sexual harassment following MeToo. The study, though, by breaking down behaviors, indicated that both men and women largely agree regarding what constitutes harassing behavior.

Age discrimination a problem for older workers

Women in the workplace are far more likely to suffer from sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and other types of gender discrimination in California. However, there are also unique concerns that are particularly important for men in the workplace. Age discrimination is one such concern that has a stronger effect on men. According to one 2019 study of age-related discrimination in the workplace, less than 33% of women believed that their age was a factor in holding them back from finding new jobs or obtaining a promotion. On the other hand, almost 40% of male participants did indicate that age was a barrier for them in the workplace.

In total, around 20% of all workers over 40 said that they had experienced some form of age discrimination on the job. In addition, many reported that there was little or no coverage given to age discrimination in company training about avoiding bias in the workplace. The younger respondents feared that the situation would worsen after the age of 50. However, 67% of the respondents under 65 said that they planned to keep working after they turn 66.

"Criminal Minds" camera operator sues over sexual harassment

Readers who follow California's entertainment industry could be interested to learn that a crew member on the CBS drama series "Criminal Minds" has filed a lawsuit against CBS Corp., ABC Studios, Warner Bros. and others over sexual harassment and battery claims. The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

According to the court filing, the plaintiff, a camera operator on the series, claims that he has been subjected to a series of sexual harassment and battery incidents by his supervisor, the director of photography, since he began working on the show in 2011. He alleges that his boss inappropriately touched his body in a sexual manner fairly often for years. He also claims that his boss repeatedly screamed at him, threatened to have him fired or demoted on a regular basis and prevented him from being promoted. He further contends that other employees on the series were wrongfully fired after reporting similar incidents by the same individual.

Gender harassment rises as sexual harassment falls

Female workers in California and elsewhere are reporting fewer instances of unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion. This is according to a study conducted by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado. The study involved 500 women who were polled about their experiences with sexual harassment and coercion in September 2016 and in September 2018. The results suggest that sexual harassment is happening less frequently in the workplace.

However, there was an increase in the amount of gender harassment reported between 2016 and 2018. For example, men have increasingly said that they don't want to be alone with women or mentor them because they don't want to be falsely accused of sexual harassment. This is in spite of the fact that false accusations of harassment are rare. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there was a 14% increase in sexual harassment complaints in 2018 compared to 2017.

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