Workplace discrimination is more than just demoralizing. When employees experience it, the effects can be devastating both emotionally and financially. But discrimination isn’t just wrong, it’s illegal and you don’t have to put up with it. Call the workplace discrimination attorneys at The Dominguez Firm right away at 800-818-1818 for a free and completely confidential consultation.
While we like to think that companies and supervisors adhere to the principle of judging employees based solely on their job performance, that doesn’t always happen. When it does, you don’t have to suffer in silence or quit. California has strong laws on the books that protect employees against illegal discrimination. Read on for more information regarding workplace discrimination and what you can do to fight back.
What is Workplace Discrimination and Retaliation?
Workplace discrimination is the negative treatment of a person based on a protected category including, but not limited to, race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces state laws regarding discrimination in the workplace. Examples of negative treatment include:
- Receiving a pay cut
- Being passed over for promotions
- Being paid less than a counterpart with the same job duties
- Being demoted
- Being given an unfavorable job schedule
- Being subjected to derogatory jokes, slurs or comments
- Being sexually harassed
- Being evaluated more strictly or disciplined more frequently than your colleagues, even if they display similar behavior.
- Being forced to quit due to an intolerable or hostile work environment
- Being terminated
- Not being hired because you belong to one of the protected categories (see below under “What Types of Discrimination Are There?”)
Note the last example on the list above. You don’t have to be an employee to file a discrimination lawsuit. Job candidates who are not considered for a position because of their gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. may also have grounds for a claim.
What Should I Do If I’m Experiencing Workplace Discrimination?
If you think you’re being discriminated against at work, your first step should be to try and resolve it through your Human Resources department first. If you don’t take this important step, your company will most likely say that they were unaware of any discrimination against you since you never brought it up or filed a complaint.
If your company does nothing to resolve the issue, then you should contact the workplace discrimination attorneys at The Dominguez Firm right away. All of our consultations are free and confidential. We can inform you of your rights, and if we can help, we can assist you in gathering the information you’ll need to prove your case.
What Are My Rights as an Employee in California?
California is the most employee-friendly state in the nation. The state recognizes the broadest list of protected categories of employees. If an employer discriminates against you based on your race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, gender expression, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, age, genetic information or military/veteran status, then they are acting illegally and can be sued for discrimination by you, the employee.
However, California is also an at-will employment state. That means that your employer can fire you without having to provide a reason (with some exceptions) and you in turn, can quit without giving notice. But if you belong to one of the protected categories outlined below and are discriminated against or terminated, you have the right to sue your employer.
What Types of Discrimination Are There?
Here is a breakdown of the protected categories recognized by our state:
- Gender Discrimination – This can come in many forms. The best-known example of gender discrimination is when a woman hits the proverbial “glass ceiling” and is no longer considered for promotions within her company based solely on her gender. Another example is a woman who is not hired to work as a plumber because it is seen as a traditionally male field.
Although not as common as workplace discrimination against women, male workplace discrimination does occur, and men are afforded the same legal protection as their female counterparts if they experience it.
- Racial Discrimination – Being passed over for promotions, harassed and/or even terminated solely based on your race is illegal not only in California but in every other state as well. As with gender discrimination, hitting a glass ceiling and being passed over for promotions is a clear example of this type of discrimination.
- National Origin Discrimination – Discriminating against or firing someone because of their ethnicity or national origin is also illegal. This includes harassing the employee by making jokes or using slurs based on their ethnicity, thus creating a hostile work environment.
- Age Discrimination – At the federal level, a law forbidding age discrimination has been on the books since as far back as 1967. The age group specified federally is 40 and above. This is the same age group recognized in California. Conversely, there is no law protecting workers under the age of 40. So, an employee under 40 who is passed over for a promotion for being too young, has no legal recourse in California.
- Disability Discrimination – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as state laws protect disabled workers from being discriminated against. It doesn’t matter whether the disability is physical or mental. Also, employers must provide reasonable workplace accommodation if it helps the employee to perform their job as needed.
In recent years, a rise in the popularity of genetic testing has had repercussions in the workplace. Here in California, it is now illegal to ask employees to undergo genetic testing. It’s also illegal to discriminate against an employee who may be predisposed to certain hereditary diseases. As an example, a company firing an employee upon finding out one of his or her parents has Parkinson’s disease.
- Family Responsibility Discrimination – Employers are forbidden from discriminating against employees who are primary caretakers for a family member, or due to the birth of a child. An example of this type of discrimination would be giving the employee an unfavorable work schedule in the hopes that it will pressure them into quitting due to their situation at home.
- Political Affiliation Discrimination – California Labor Code §1101 specifically forbids employers from making or enforcing any rules or policies regarding politics within the workplace. Employees are free to participate in political activities outside of work without fear of reprisals, as long as it does not affect their job performance. However, employees are not allowed to create a hostile work environment for any colleagues who don’t share their same political views. Along the same vein, employers can request that employees not engage in political debates at work.
- Pregnancy Discrimination – Related to gender discrimination, but in a protected class of its own, pregnancy discrimination can also include discrimination against a woman who is not even an employee. Asking a job candidate questions about her pregnancy during her interview or not hiring her based solely on the fact that she’s pregnant is illegal. Firing an employee who informs their employer that they’re pregnant or subsequently passing over that employee for promotions are other examples of pregnancy discrimination.
- Sexual Orientation Discrimination – The law in California is clear: discriminating against an employee based on their sexual orientation is prohibited. In recent years, this law has been expanded. The original wording offered protection to individuals who identified as gay, lesbian, homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual.
A new FEHC regulation, which went into effect in July of 2017, expanded the definition of sexual orientation to include gender identity as well. The expansion of this category stops employers from asking job candidates or employees what their gender is. It also requires employers to use the name and pronoun preferred by the employee in the workplace.
Religious Discrimination – Employers may not discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs, whatever they may be. An example of discrimination in this category would be asking a Jewish employee to not wear a yarmulke at work, no matter the circumstances.
Employees who are atheists are also protected against religious discrimination. For example, an employee who is an atheist cannot be forced to attend a prayer session, even if it’s non-denominational.
What Happens if I File a Claim and My Employer Retaliates?
Most employees in California know that workplace discrimination is illegal. But many don’t know that employer retaliation is also illegal. Unfortunately, this fear often stops a wronged employee from seeking justice. If this is the case with you, know that you have rights. If you file a claim for discrimination and your employer retaliates, they are acting illegally and can be punished for retaliating as well. If you’ve filed a claim against your employer and they are retaliating, let your discrimination attorney know right away—even if you just think they might be retaliating.
What Does a Discrimination Lawyer Do?
A workplace discrimination attorney provides a voice to the employee who has been treated unfairly or the job candidate who has been denied an opportunity. At The Dominguez Firm, we have years of experience successfully handling workplace discrimination cases. We know what evidence to gather and how to present it in the clearest, strongest way possible. We also have the resources to take on the largest corporations and achieve positive results for our clients.
Discrimination and retaliation cases can be complex. A good discrimination attorney will gather all of the documents needed to help prove your case, including:
- Your correspondence with your Human Resources department
- Your employee evaluations
- Any write-ups you’ve received
- Text messages and emails with supervisors and/or colleagues
- Paycheck stubs
Depending on the facts of the case, other documentation may also be used as evidence.
How Much is the Average Discrimination Lawsuit Worth?
Every case is different and has its own particular set of circumstances. This is what most clients hear when they ask this question. However, there are ways to calculate a general range of what each case may be worth based on past verdicts and settlements for similar cases.
The legal speak for any money you may be awarded is called “damages”. Damages are broken down into several categories:
- Economic Damages – These can easily be summed up. They can include back pay, lost future wages and benefits, the cost of searching for a new job and any medical expenses incurred.
- Emotional Distress Damages – This amount is harder to pinpoint. It’s essentially compensation for the pain and suffering you endured due to your employer’s discrimination and/or retaliation.
- Punitive Damages – If the discrimination and/or retaliation was particularly offensive, the court may award punitive damages. This isn’t done as much for the benefit of the plaintiff as to punish the defendant (the employer) for their actions and hopefully send a signal to other employers to refrain from acting in the same manner.
- Attorneys’ Fees – Here in California, you are entitled to all attorneys’ fees and costs for any claim you win!
Another consideration when calculating the value of your workplace discrimination case is the financial strength of the employer being sued. Frankly, a smaller employer may not have the money to pay out a large settlement or verdict.
Defendants (employers) in workplace discrimination cases generally prefer to settle, even if they have the financial resources to fight the claim. That’s because, in recent years, juries, especially those here in California have tended to favor the plaintiff in these kinds of cases.
Remember, the purpose of filing a workplace discrimination claim is to be compensated for the actions your employer took against you, obtain justice and be made whole again.
How do You Prove Discrimination?
The key to proving a discrimination case is to show that your employer discriminated against you simply because you belong to one of the protected categories listed above. Your employer will most likely present the argument that you did not perform (or are not performing) your job in a satisfactory manner.
That’s why your workplace discrimination attorney needs to present concrete documentation that you did perform your job as expected. To do this, they may show:
- Examples of your work and if possible, of your colleagues to compare the quality.
- Show any awards or other types of positive commendations you’ve received regarding your work. This can include favorable customer reviews or emails praising your work.
- Present your employee evaluations as evidence of past performance.
Some of this positive evidence may be in direct contradiction to criticisms you’ve received from your employer or supervisor. Any contradictions between your evidence and your employer’s claims of poor job performance strengthen your claim. For example, if you received an award for outstanding customer service, but were demoted shortly thereafter, that would be a clear example of a contradiction.
If your employer or a supervisor openly made discriminatory comments against you in front of other employees, those employees can be called as witnesses to help prove your case.
Some companies have a pattern of discriminating against one particular protected class. Say your company has a history of consistently promoting men over women with the same level of experience and skill. If you’re a woman and find yourself being overlooked for promotions, showing this clear pattern is helpful to your case.
Ideally, you’ve also filed complaints with your Human Resources department regarding the discrimination you’ve been experiencing. As previously noted, if you’re currently being subjected to workplace discrimination, it’s important to go to Human Resources or your supervisor (if there is no Human Resources department). This gives them a chance to remedy the situation. If your supervisor is the one discriminating against you, seek out someone else in a position of authority. That documentation provides invaluable proof of discrimination by your employer if they don’t resolve the problem.
Is it Better to Quit or be Fired?
Fired employees have rights that employees who quit don’t have. Fired employees can:
- Collect unemployment
- Obtain higher amounts in damages in discrimination lawsuits
- Can sue for wrongful termination
However, if you quit, all is not lost. It depends on how and why you quit your job. If you quit because the situation at work became intolerable, the law in California sees it as a termination (firing) since you were forced to quit your job. Therefore, you have the same rights as someone who was fired.
How Long Does it Take to Settle a Discrimination Lawsuit?
Clients are often frustrated by the most common answer to this question: “it depends”. Some cases are complex and can take 2 years or more to resolve, especially if they end up going to trial. More clear-cut cases usually take less time and settle without the need to go to court.
But the timeline of your case should not be your top concern. Instead, think along these lines: your case should take as long as necessary to obtain justice and make you whole again.
Choose the Right Discrimination Lawyer
We all want our work to be judged solely on the merits of our skills. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Being discriminated against or suffering retaliation at work due to the color of your skin, gender or sexual orientation can have devastating consequences on you and your family. But here in California, you can fight back against an unfair employer.
You have rights and the workplace discrimination lawyers at The Dominguez Firm can help. If you’ve been terminated, demoted, given a pay cut, passed over for promotions or discriminated against, contact the workplace discrimination lawyers at The Dominguez Firm right away. We offer free and confidential consultations, so call us now at 800-818-1818. And if you’re worried about the cost of hiring a lawyer, you shouldn’t because we promise: we win, or you don’t pay, so call us today!
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