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Employment Discrimination: Important Answers to Your Questions

By law, your employer may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age (over 40), citizenship, pregnancy, or disability. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination based upon these factors. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

What constitutes Discrimination?

Discrimination means applying employment decisions such as hiring, firing, promotion, pay raises, benefits, work assignments, leaves of absence or almost any other aspect of employment in a discriminatory way based upon one of the prohibited bases.

I’ve suffered discrimination. What should I do?

You should inform your employer of the discriminatory treatment (i.e., complain). Doing so is important, as the law requires that the employer investigate all claims of discrimination and take immediate and appropriate action to remedy the situation.

What if my employer retaliates against me?

It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against a victim of discrimination. Employers do sometimes retaliate against an employee for raising claims of discrimination – but they do so at their own peril. Retaliation could be any of the following actions: firing, denial of promotions, denial of pay raises, altering work assignments, denial of leaves of absence, or other adverse actions in almost any other aspect of employment. Any such adverse action taken against an employee within a relatively short time period after the employee complains of discrimination will be considered suspect. This is especially so when the employee is terminated shortly after complaining. If an adverse action is later found to be in retaliation for the complaint, the employer will be subjected to separate liability for violation of federal and state laws – whether the discrimination is proven to have occurred or not. An employee has an absolute right to complain about discrimination or harassment without fear of retaliation by his or her employer.

What if the discrimination continues?

Before any lawsuit can be filed against an employer for discrimination, an employee must file a complaint with either the federal or state authority charged with investigating such complaints. This is designed to give the employer time to remedy its conduct prior to being sued. In many cases, it is simply a formality that must be taken care of prior to a lawsuit.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the state agency that investigates complaints of violations of state employment discrimination laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that investigates complaints of violations of federal civil rights law (Title VII) in employment.

Do I need a lawyer?

If your complaint goes nowhere, you can still strike back in court. The complaint process both within companies and through the federal and state agencies charged to investigate complaints can leave employees empty-handed and feeling unsatisfied. Both Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act give employees a right to sue an employer for violations of their rights. If violations of the law are shown, the employee’s recovery may include his or her past lost wages and benefits, future wage loss, attorney fees, and punitive damages. Punitive damages are calculated in part on the earnings of the company.