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Understanding Federal & California Anti-discrimination Laws

Table of Contents for Specific Topics

Discrimination has no place in the workplace, according to existing federal and California laws. On a federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees on the basis of race, skin color, sex, religion, and national origin.

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects job applicants and employees based on an array of factors, including race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and others.

What Characteristics Are Protected Under Anti-discrimination Laws?

The following characteristics are protected under federal and state anti-discrimination laws:


Age discrimination occurs when an applicant or employee over the age of 40 receives less favorable treatment because of their age. In other words, workers who are equally or better qualified than other candidates should not be refused employment. Neither should they be fired after reaching a certain age.

Race & Ancestry

Racial discrimination occurs when employees or applicants are discriminated against on the basis of race, color of skin, national origin, or ancestry. Neither are employers allowed to discriminate based on an employee or applicant’s association with members of another race, skin color, national origin, or ancestry.


It is unlawful for employees and job applicants to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. Also, if a religious belief or observance interferes with work duties or job schedules, employers are expected to make adjustments.

Physical Disabilities

A physical disability is any bodily condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss that prevents a person from functioning properly or participating in major life activities. Generally, both employees and job applicants have the right to be free from discrimination because of their physical disabilities.

Mental Disabilities

A mental disability is a psychological or mental condition that limits a major life activity. Just like physical disabilities, both employees and job applicants have the right to be free from discrimination because of their mental disabilities.

Medical Condition

A medical condition is any genetic characteristic associated with a disease; it can also be a health problem related to a cancer diagnosis.

Genetic Information

Employment anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from collecting genetic information from employees or job applicants to make decisions regarding their employment.

Marital Status

Employees and applicants cannot be discriminated against for being single, married, separated, divorced, or widowed. Neither can employers issue outright bans on hiring married couples. On the other hand, it isn’t considered discriminatory for married couples within the same department to be regulated in order to minimize workplace disruptions.


Federal and California anti-discrimination laws prohibit female employees from being discriminated against or fired due to their pregnancy.


While “sex” normally refers to an individual’s gender, the word “sex” in this context has a broader context and encompasses discrimination based on physical gender, gender identity, gender expression, and others.

Military/Veteran Status

Discriminating against active or veteran military service members is illegal in California. An example is when employers pay lesser compensation to an employee receiving veteran benefits.

What Are the Main Types of Discrimination?

While discrimination can take many forms, they fall into two broad categories:

Disparate Treatment Discrimination

This form of discrimination occurs when an employee is specifically targeted because of a protected characteristic. For a case like this to be successfully pursued in court, employees need to prove that their employers’ actions were motivated by discriminatory intent.

Disparate Impact Discrimination

This form of discrimination occurs when an employer adopts a policy that applies to all employees; however, the policy has a more negative impact on those with a protected characteristic than those without it. In cases like these, employers can be sued even if there was no discriminatory intent.

What Factors Make a Strong Case for Workplace Discrimination?

Under California law, a plaintiff may have a discrimination claim if something negative happened to them at work because of their protected characteristics.

The following factors make a particularly strong case:

  • The plaintiff was treated unjustly, had his wages reduced, or was allotted fewer working hours because of a protected characteristic.
  • The plaintiff was issued negative write-ups or performance evaluations because of a protected characteristic.
  • The plaintiff was terminated because of a protected characteristic.

Filing a Workplace Discrimination Claim

If you were victimized by your employer’s discriminatory practices and fall under one of the protected classes, you may decide to sue your employer for damages. You must first file a written complaint with an administrative agency, as employees cannot go straight to court with such lawsuits.

If you’re bringing claims exclusively under state law, then the complaint should be filed with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). In contrast, if you’re bringing claims under federal anti-discrimination laws, then it must be filed with either the DFEH or the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). When a complaint is filed with the DFEH, courts consider it to have been filed with the EEOC.

If a complaint has been filed with the appropriate administrative agency but has not been resolved, you may issue a document called the right-to-sue letter. You may then bring a lawsuit in court.

Hire a Savvy Employment Discrimination Attorney to Obtain Maximum Compensation

While you’re not required to have a lawyer when you file a workplace discrimination claim, it’s often prudent to have one. The law is exceedingly complex and a lot of evidence needs to be presented to boost your claim. An experienced employment discrimination lawyer can assist by collecting all legally-relevant information and avoiding many of the missteps that could jeopardize your case.

Mesriani Law Group’s team of highly experienced lawyers is dedicated to championing the cause of victims of employment and labor law violations. They’ll work hard to ensure that you’re properly compensated for all the losses and sufferings you’ve shouldered as a result of your employer’s illegal behavior.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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