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San Diego Workplace Discrimination Lawyer

In a professional environment, employers are expected to uphold a workplace marked by respect and free of discrimination. Unfortunately, discrimination in the workplace is commonplace and occurs in nearly every industry. Discrimination can significantly impact the careers of employees and can be based on their age, sex, race, religion and many other factors.

If you have been discriminated against in the workplace, you need an experienced attorney on your side.

At Walker Law Firm, we can help. We work to empower employees to feel confident that they ask their employers to treat them decently and fairly and to hold them accountable if they do not. Contact our San Diego discrimination attorneys today for your free consultation.

What Constitutes Workplace Discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace refers to an action by an employer that results in an employee or job applicant receiving unjust or prejudicial treatment because of a specific characteristic or trait.

Some examples of workplace discrimination include:

  • An employee fired because of their age (age discrimination)
  • An employee not invited to promotional opportunities because of their same-sex marriage (marital status discrimination)
  • An employee who is docked pay for praying (religious discrimination)
  • An employee constantly harassed because of her gender identity (gender identity harassment)
  • A female worker paid less than a male worker (sex discrimination)

Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

The United States Congress has passed numerous laws protecting employees from discrimination. Important laws to know include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) – Prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, including Native American tribe membership
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) – Prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related condition, including termination or miscarriage.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) – Prohibits discrimination based on age for anyone over the age of 40.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Prohibits discrimination based on disability
  • The Equal Pay Act (EPA) – Prohibits discrimination for pay based on gender
  • IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act) – Prohibits discrimination based on citizenship or national origin
  • Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 – Prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) – Prohibits discrimination based on genetic information

The majority of federal discrimination laws are enforced by the The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the United States Justice Department (DOJ). Requirements for each law will differ depending. The Equal Pay Act, for example, is broad and applies to nearly all employers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is more specific and applies to local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, and private employers with 15 or more employees.

What all of these laws share is the idea of protecting employees from discrimination based on specific characteristics. In fact, all of these characteristics are listed in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the subsequent laws have just afforded more specific protections to people with these characteristics. These characteristics are commonly referred to as “classes”.

As mentioned, not every unfair action an employer takes is against the law. Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on their membership in a protected class. Unlawful discrimination occurs when an employee faces unequal or unfair treatment because of their protected characteristics. Title VII specifically states that the following classes are protected:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Origin of nationality
  • Mental illness
  • Physical handicap
  • Genetic information

California Anti-Discrimination Laws

California is one of the most progressive states in protecting employees. Under the California Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA) (Section 12940 of the California Government Code), employers cannot refuse to hire or employ a person, refuse to select a person for a training program, discharge a person from employment or a training program, or discriminate against a person in determining compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

Employers with at least 5 employees are subject to FEHA. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces state law and handles complaints.

California has some of the country’s most stringent labor laws. California state laws supplement the protections afforded the federal protections of Title VII. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) adds the following protected classes to the list:

  • Ancestry
  • Disability, either physical or mental
  • Relationship status
  • Sexual preference
  • Gender expression and identity
  • HIV/AIDS status
  • Medical problems
  • Political involvement or affiliation
  • Status as a military or veteran
  • Domestic violence, assault, or stalking victim status

Direct vs. Indirect Discrimination

Unlawful discrimination may be direct, indirect, intentional, or unintentional.

Direct discrimination occurs when your employer specifically targets you because of your protected characteristic. Typical examples include:

  • Terminating an employee’s contract
  • Firing an employee
  • Promoting others based on preference rather than experience
  • Demoting an employee
  • Preventing training and growth opportunities
  • Citing unwarranted misconduct
  • Attempting to get an employee to quit
  • Paying an employee less than their counterparts
  • Docking pay or preventing bonus opportunities
  • Creating a hostile work environment with discriminatory comments

In the case of indirect discrimination, a company policy does not specifically target any group but has the effect of disadvantaging someone because of their protected class. Examples include:

  • Imposing a dress code that prevents hairstyles from being worn.
  • Preventing employees from praying before meals

To establish indirect discrimination, an employee must demonstrate not only that the employee is a member of a group affected by the policy, but also that the policy disadvantages the employee. As expected, direct discrimination is easier to prove than indirect discrimination. Employers will try to claim that the policy was objectively justified by a genuine business need or demonstrating that the policy was reasonable to achieve the business’s goals.

Recoverable Damages in Workplace Discrimination Cases

The legal triggered in a workplace discrimination case can determine the extent of damages that can be recovered. An employer could potentially be held liable for the pay the employee was entitled to but was refused. While reinstatement of the employee in his or her original job is often difficult due to tarnished relations, attorney and filing fees are also a potential recoverable cost.

In cases where a person’s damages are severe enough, pain and suffering could potentially be claimed. Additionally, punitive damages may be sought if an employee can demonstrate that the defendant’s actions amounted to oppression, fraud, or malice. Employers could also be required to pay damages as a result of illegal actions such as terminating an employee or failing to pay an employee fairly.

Contact Our San Diego Workplace Discrimination Lawyers

Our San Diego employment and labor law attorneys will help you understand your rights and fight for what you deserve. At Walker Law, our attorneys believe that no hardworking employee should be prevented from receiving opportunities based on characteristics unrelated to their work. Call us today for your free evaluation.

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