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Discrimination & Harassment

Both federal and California laws prohibit illegal discrimination. In California, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, age, disability, mental and physical medical condition, sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions), sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, military and veteran status. Such protection extends not only to employees falling into any of these categories, but also employees perceived as having one or more of these characteristics or employees who are associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, any of those characteristics. The scope of the anti-discrimination law extends to the following aspects of employment:

  • Recruitment efforts
  • Hiring Standards
  • Compensation
  • Promotion
  • Disciplinary Actions
  • Termination

Similarly, both federal and California laws prohibit unlawful harassment. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits harassment on the basis of any of the above characteristics. Harassment can take the form of verbal communications (e.g. racial epithets, making sexual innuendos), visual display (e.g. offensive wall calendars, sexual images on computer screen savers), and physical (e.g. unwelcome touching, blocking access). If such conduct should be sufficiently frequent and pervasive, it would rise to the level of a “hostile environment” where an employer could be found liable for harassment. In addition to the hostile environment form of harassment (for any of the basis enumerated above), an employer could also be found to be liable for “quid pro quo” sexual¬†harassment in which terms and benefits of employment are conditioned on sexual favors. In evaluating an employer’s liability for harassment, the following factors would be important in its analysis:

  • Existence of a clear written policy, along with effective training
  • Well-defined procedure of reporting harassment
  • Employer’s prompt and effective investigation and remedy
  • Non-retaliation

In fact, retaliation is an independent violation of both federal and California anti-discrimination laws. Once an employee has asserted a claim for engaging in a “protected activity” – such as reporting discrimination or harassment – the employer may not retaliate by undertaking any adverse employment action against the employee, such as placing the employee on a performance improvement plan, demotion, cut in pay, or termination.


The information provided in this website should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific fact or circumstance. The contents are intended for general information purposes only, and you are urged to consult counsel concerning your own situation and any specific legal questions you might have.