Discrimination and Harassment

Employment discrimination is prohibited under federal and state laws. Discrimination involves taking an adverse employment action based on a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, religion, national origin, or disability. It includes situations in which an employer terminates, demotes, or harasses an employee, among other examples. Federal anti-discrimination laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act. Many of the federal anti-discrimination laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and if your employer is covered, you will need to file a charge with the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit. California also has a nondiscrimination law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), California Family Rights Act and California Pregnancy Disability Leave which protects people who work for companies with five or more employees.

Disability Discrimination and Disability Harassment

Pregnancy Discrimination and Harassment

Mental Disability Discrimination and Harassment

Wage and Hour

Under California labor laws, most employees must receive minimum wage and overtime pay. You cannot waive your right to overtime pay. For all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in one week, an employer must pay nonexempt employees one and a half times their regular rate of pay. For all hours worked in excess of eight hours in one day, an employer also must pay nonexempt employees one and a half times their regular rate of pay. If a nonexempt employee works more than 12 hours in one day or more than eight hours on the seventh consecutive day of work, he or she is entitled to double the regular rate of pay. An employer that fails to follow the minimum wage and overtime laws may face substantial penalties. Often, wage and hour and overtime cases are brought as class actions.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is prohibited by Title VII and FEHA. Harassment may include requests for sexual favors or sexual advances, unwelcome physical contact, offensive speech, and more. There are two categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. The former occurs when a supervisor conditions his or her employment actions on an employee's acceptance of harassing conduct. For example, a supervisor who agrees to promote an employee only if she has sex with him is engaged in quid pro quo harassment. A hostile work environment exists if someone’s harassing actions are either so severe or so pervasive that a reasonable employee would find the behavior creates a hostile work environment. Management, supervisors, or coworkers can create a hostile work environment through inappropriate conduct or speech.

Wrongful Termination

Generally, employment is "at will" in California. This means that employment can be terminated at any time. However, an employee cannot be fired for reasons that violate public policy, FEHA, TITLE VII or the employment contract. Most courts require that there be a specific law that sets forth a public policy in order to allow a wrongful termination claim based on a violation of public policy. For example, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate someone's employment for requesting an accommodation for a disability under the ADA or FEHA, filing a complaint with HR about a violation of the PDA, or reporting Labor Code violations. Most wrongful termination cases in California are brought under FEHA.

Class Action

In order to maintain and receive the benefits of a class action, a class of plaintiffs must be certified. In California, employment law cases have a high rate of classes that are certified. Code of Civil Procedure section 382 and case law govern class action litigation in California courts, while the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern class actions in federal courts. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a), a plaintiff must establish numerosity, commonality, and typicality, as well as showing that class members will be adequately represented by the plaintiff. A plaintiff also needs to show that the lawsuit satisfies additional requirements under Rule 23(b).


Federal and state anti-discrimination and labor laws prohibit an employer's retaliation against an employee for engaging in a protected activity. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee for filing a charge with the EEOC or DFEH, filing a lawsuit, or participating in an investigation or proceeding related to charges of discrimination or Labor Code violations. For example, firing an employee for providing information to the EEOC or DFEH about a charge of sexual harassment is retaliation. An employee is protected as long as he or she acted in good faith. In other words, you might make a reasonable mistake about being harassed due to your disability, but your employer may not demote you, terminate you, or pay you less because you filed a charge.

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