“Discrimination” means being treated differently or unfairly. Discrimination in employment is illegal when the treatment is based on a personal characteristic or status, such as sex or race, which is protected under anti-discrimination laws. Since the law prohibits discrimination based only on certain protected categories, not every form of discriminatory or unfair treatment is illegal. . Discrimination can be expressed through “harassment,” when a boss, supervisor, or co-worker says or does something that creates an intimidating, hostile or threatening work environment. Harassment is illegal if it is based on a personal characteristic or status protected under anti-discrimination laws. To be illegal, the harassment must be so “severe or pervasive” that it interferes with the employee’s ability to perform the job. Several federal and state laws protect people against many types of discrimination in employment.
There are several federal laws prohibiting discrimination:
Unlike the federal laws, California has one law prohibiting discrimination. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex (including sexual harassment), national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity (including transgender status) medical condition (cancer), pregnancy, and marital status.2. Do these anti-discrimination laws apply to me?
Federal and state laws make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees or job applicants who are members of a protected group in hiring, firing, pay, or other terms and conditions of employment. These laws apply, however, only if the employer has at least the number of employees indicated below:
|Law||Federal/State||Min. number of employees|
|Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)||Federal law||15 employees|
|Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)||Federal law||15 employees|
|Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)||Federal law||20 employees|
|Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)||California state law||5 employees*|
* The Fair Employment and Housing Act protections against harassment apply regardless of the number of employees.3. Identifying discrimination
These state and federal laws prohibit employers from refusing to hire a job applicant, firing an employee, or changing other terms and conditions of employment (such as pay or benefits) if the reason for the action is that the employee or job applicant is a member of a protected group. Discrimination can take different forms and does not even have to be intentional to be illegal. Two general types of discrimination the law protects against are:
“Disparate Treatment”: This means that an employer intentionally singles out an individual or a group of people for unequal treatment for an illegal reason. For example, a victim of “disparate treatment” might be someone who is:
“Disparate Impact”: This term applies when an employer has a policy or practice that has the effect of discriminating—even though it doesn’t single out a protected group for different treatment—and which is not related to an actual requirement of the job. This type of discrimination does not have to be intentional to be illegal. Examples of such policies or practices include:
Under state and federal law, it is illegal for a person or company to retaliate against someone who complains about discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Retaliation may include actions such as terminating an employee, moving an employee to less favorable assignments or shifts, providing undeserved negative evaluations to an employee, or intensifying the original harassment. If anyone (including a co-worker or supervisor) retaliates against you for either bringing a formal complaint or otherwise protesting unlawful discrimination at your worksite, you can file a retaliation claim with the EEOC or DFEH.