California and federal law prohibit employers from illegal discrimination based on a number of actual or perceived traits or characteristics. Both federal and California law explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, disability, age, and religion. In addition, California law provides additional protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and marital status.

Sex Discrimination:

Employers are forbidden from treating either a job applicant or an

employee unfavorably on the basis of that person’s sex. Sex discrimination can manifest in a number of ways, including paying unequal amounts to employees of different sexes for similar work, consistently promoting members of one sex over similarly qualified members of the opposite sex, or maintaining a leave policy that treats pregnancy-related leave worse than other types of medical leave.

Racial or National Origin Discrimination:

Employees are protected from workplace discrimination on the basis of their race or skin color; closely related to this are protections against national origin or ancestry discrimination. An employer may commit racial or national origin discrimination if it consistently refuses to interview or hire persons with names suggestive of a particular race or heritage, regularly use ethnic slurs in the workplace, or enforces policies that unfairly and disproportionately impact members of only one racial group.

Disability Discrimination:

Employees that suffer from physical or mental disabilities who are

nonetheless able to perform the essential functions of their job are likewise protected from discrimination in the workplace. These protections include disabilities that result from pregnancy and prohibits pre-emptive termination of pregnant employees. The law requires employers to work with employees to find a reasonable accommodation that will allow an employee to continue working despite these actual or perceived disabilities. Employers can violate the law by unilaterally transferring a disabled employee, failing to engage the employee in finding a reasonable accommodation, or terminating a female employee prior to or once she becomes pregnant.

Age Discrimination:

State and federal law protect workers aged 40 and over from discrimination on the basis of their age. Common examples of age discrimination include reassignment of older workers to undesirable positions, opening positions exclusively to younger workers, and layoffs which disproportionately impact older workers.

Religion Discrimination:

Employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of religion, and must reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of their employees. Such accommodations may include allowing employees to wear religious clothing or jewelry or maintain certain body or facial hair styles in accordance with an individual’s observance of his/her religious beliefs. Employers are further prohibited from refusing to hire or promote persons on the basis of their religion or characteristics associate with an individual’s religious beliefs. 

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Expression:

California is one of a growing number of states that explicitly protect workers from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. LGBT workers are protected against various forms of unique discrimination, such as inflexible dress codes mandating a sex-selective uniform which does not correspond with an employee’s gender identity, refusal to acknowledge or address an employee by gender-appropriate terminology, or refusing to extend parental leave to employees with children in same-sex relationships.

Marital Status:

California law expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of marital status.While frequently associated with other forms of discrimination, California’s increased protections make it illegal for employers to have hiring or promotion policies that favor single workers over married ones, such as asking an applicant is married or basing a promotion on whether an employee plans to start a family. Similarly, employers cannot maintain policies that favor married workers over single ones, such as refusing requests for maternity leave to unmarried employees. Often, an employee that has suffered one or more types of discrimination listed above will also be the victim of harassment (see Harassment section). In addition, if an employer not only ignores the complaints of employee who is suffering from workplace discrimination, but subjects that employee to even more adverse treatment, the employer may be committing retaliation (see Retaliation section). Finally, an employer may choose to terminate the employee for discriminatory reasons or make working conditions so intolerable that the employee has no choice but to resign; in so doing, the employer may be responsible for wrongful termination. Each of these are separate violations that subject the employer to additional penalties and provide a victimized employee with further damages.