In California, workers are protected from discrimination by law. Some of the strongest employee protections are found in “FEHA,” the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
FEHA prohibits harassment and discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, mental and physical disability, medical condition, age, pregnancy, denial of medical and family care leave, or pregnancy disability leave (Government Code sections 12940,12945, 12945.2) and/or retaliation for protesting illegal discrimination related to one of these categories.
FEHA also prohibits retaliation for reporting patient abuse in tax supported institutions.
You may make a complaint to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and ask them to investigate on your behalf. However, government resources are scarce, which means that the DFEH is limited in the number of investigations it can pursue at any given time. This means, many times, a complaint to the DFEH will not result in any action.
You may choose to file a private lawsuit under FEHA, but before you file suit, you must make sure to “exhaust” your administrative remedies.
This usually a simple process, but it is required. Otherwise you will not be permitted to make a claim in court.
For employment discrimination issues, you are required to exhaust your administrative remedies with the Department by securing a Notice of Right to Sue. To obtain a right to sue letter, you must apply to the DFEH. You can do this on-line. Here is the link.
In most cases, complaints of discrimination must be filed with the Department within one year from the date of the alleged discriminatory act. Also in most cases, for victims who are under the age of 18, complaints of discrimination must be filed no later than one year following that person’s 18th birthday. You should contact the DFEH immediately if there is any likelihood that this one-year period is about to expire.
This law specifically provides protection from harassment or discrimination in employment because of:
- Age (40 and over)
- Religious Creed (including religious dress and grooming practices)
- Denial of Family and Medical Care Leave
- Disability (mental and physical) including HIV and AIDS
- Marital Status
- Medical Condition (cancer and genetic characteristics)
- Genetic Information
- Military and Veteran Status
- National Origin (including language use restrictions)
- Sex (which includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and medical conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding)
- Gender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression
Some workers prefer to make their discrimination complaint through the federal system by filing a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. There are various pros and cons for making a state complaint versus a federal complaint. Be aware that while the two systems have similarities, they also have important differences that might affect your rights.
Always be aware that the law placed time limits on when you can bring a claim. If you do not make your claim within those time limits, you may lose your right to seek a remedy in court or through a government agency.
Also, remember that regardless of where you make your complaint or claim, you will need to have evidence to demonstrate the discrimination to other people who were not present to see what your experienced. Preserve documents that you believe support your claim and consider making notes for your attorneys to review about your experiences while the facts are still fresh in your mind.