Discrimination Law in California

This page discusses California’s workplace discrimination law. The goal of the page is to help recently terminated individuals decide whether or not they should contact an employment lawyer. While this page discusses CA’s discrimination laws, it is not a substitute for speaking with a lawyer. We highly recommend that you contact an employment lawyer if you feel your termination was discriminatory.

This video was made by an lawyer Mr. Odell went to law school with. It gives a solid overview of California discrimination law.

This page covers the following subjects:

  • CA’s main anti-discrimination law for the workplace
  • The hot areas of discrimination law
  • Other protected areas of discrimination law
  • What are the differences between discrimination, harassment & wrongful termination?
  • What can you recover in a discrimination lawsuit?
  • Average verdicts and settlements in discrimination cases
  • How much does a lawyer cost?
  • Statutes of limitations for discrimination lawsuits
  • Right to sue letter – EEOC or DFEH?
  • Consulting with a lawyer and hiring a lawyer

California’s Main Discrimination Law Protecting Employees at Work

California protects its employees better than any state in the Union. CA specifically passed its own anti-discrimination law, the Fair Employment & Housing Act. This law is stronger than Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law, because it does not have statutory damage caps.

The Hot Areas of Discrimination Law

Disability Discrimination – The most common type of workplace discrimination in today’s world is disability discrimination. If your boss fired you because you’re disabled, CA’s employment law may have been broken. The discrimination laws not only prohibit termination because of a disability, but employers must also provide their employees with reasonable accommodations when the employee requests one. These laws are very strict and corporations across the state frequently violate them.

Age Discrimination – Sometimes younger managerial employees don’t see the value in experience. It is unlawful to terminate an employee because of his or her age. Unfortunately, it is extremely common for us to get a call from an older worker who was replaced by someone in their twenties. Usually, the decision maker has made off-putting comments relating to the employees age.

Gender Discrimination – In some work environments the “old boys club” is alive and well. Glass ceilings are real and women across California are suffering the ramifications. If you have been terminated because you complained about inequality at work, don’t hesitate to call for a free consultation.

Racial DiscriminationDiscrimination Law in California | Discrimination Lawyer – Racial discrimination is still prevalent in American workplaces. It is not limited to white vs. blacks. We frequently hear about hispanic vs. white, filipino vs. black, and hispanic vs. black. Racial discrimination is a disease that must be fought. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against because of your race, click the link above for more information about race discrimination law.

Religious Discrimination – Not only do some employers refuse to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious requests (like not working on the Sabbath if your Jewish), but some corporations blatantly fire people who don’t share management’s faith. It doesn’t matter if your Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist. If you’re fired because of your faith (or lack of faith) you should consult with a discrimination lawyer.

Other Protected Areas of Discrimination Law

Although those are the hot areas of discrimination law in California, the law protects much more. Specifically, FEHA states that it is an “unlawful employment practice” for an employer to fire an employee because of his or her:

  • color,
  • national origin,
  • ancestry,
  • medical condition,
  • genetic information,
  • marital status,
  • sex,
  • gender identity,
  • gender expression,
  • sexual orientation, or
  • military and veteran status.

What are the differences between discrimination, harassment & wrongful termination?

For non-lawyers, it is easy to mix all of this up. Basically, wrongful termination is a catchall area of law that sometimes overlaps more nuanced areas like discrimination. It is predicated on “public policy,” whereas discrimination is predicated on the protected categories set up in California Government Code § 12940(a). Harassment on the other hand is predicated on (j) of § 12940. Harassment law generally can be defined as a hostile work environment, as opposed to a termination. For more information on either area, click the above links.

What can you recover in a discrimination lawsuit?

Economic Damages – If you prevail at trial, you can win economic damages. In other words, you can recover the wages you would have earned had you not been discriminated against. For example, if you were earning $100,000 per year but then got fired because of your age, race, or gender, you can recover the amount of money you would have earned had you not been fired illegally.

Emotional Distress Damages – These damages are the “pain and suffering” caused by the discrimination. Generally, ED damages include compensation for anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and mental suffering. For example, in a religious discrimination case, the employee may recover for symptoms such as weight loss, sleeplessness, diarrhea, crying spells, depression and loss of enjoyment of life. The law tries to compensate for past emotional distress as well as future emotional distress.

Attorney’s Fees – One of the most powerful components of FEHA discrimination claims is that you may recover your attorney’s fees on top of your other damages. Since many discrimination claims have small economic and emotional distress damages, California’s legislature wanted to incentivize employment lawyers to provide a check on employment discrimination.

Punitive Damages – These damages are meant to punish a corporation for reprehensible conduct. These damages are rare and are limited in size by U.S. Supreme Court cases. In order to win punitive damages, you must show that the employer acted with oppression, fraud or malice. This is an extremely difficult standard to meet.

Average Verdicts and Settlements in Discrimination Cases

Most discrimination cases settle. Since all settlements are subject to confidentiality provisions, there is not much data to generate an average. But, anecdotally, it is fair to say that the vast majority of cases settle for under $50,000. But if you have a case you should not expect a certain amount from your lawsuit. Every case is wildly different and settlement value varies tremendously depending on thousands of variables.

For those cases that go to trial, the value is higher. According to one insurance company, “Most employment matters don’t end up in court, but for those that do, the damages can be substantial. The median judgment is approximately $200,000, which is in addition to the cost of defense. About 25% of cases result in a judgment of $500,000 or more.” While this lawyer believes that is high (and may be exaggerated in an effort to sell EPLI insurance policies) a good discrimination case can be worthwhile for the client and lawyer to pursue.

According to one Berkeley publication, plaintiffs win discrimination cases 50% of the time, with a median verdict of $200,000. This is based on a sample size of 272 cases.

How Much Does a Discrimination Lawyer Cost?

Lawyers who represent employees generally get paid via a contingency fee. This means that the lawyer is not paid unless he or she successfully recovers money on your behalf. The attorney will get paid a percentage of your award. You do not pay the lawyer any money out of pocket. The law office will also advance the costs on your behalf, and recover the costs from the settlement or verdict at the end of the case.

What is the Statutes of Limitations for Discrimination Cases?

Generally, there is one year from the discriminatory act (usually a termination, demotion, or refusal to hire) to acquire a right to sue letter from the Department of Fair Employment & Housing. You have one year from the date you acquired the letter to file your case in court. Usually, your lawyer will acquire this right-to-sue letter for you.

The statute of limitations is different for employees of public entities. Sometimes, the statute of limitations can be as short as six months! Since the statute of limitations in discrimination cases varies widely, it is recommended that you consult with an employment lawyer promptly after the discriminatory event occurs.

Should I Get a Right-to-Sue from the EEOC or DFEH?

Again, generally you’ll want your lawyer to acquire a right-to-sue letter for you. But if you’re a California employee and cannot find a lawyer, you would likely acquire a letter from the DFEH, not the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal administrative agency that attempts to enforce Title VII’s anti-discrimination laws. But the DFEH is California’s administrative agency. It enforces California’s more protective FEHA employment laws. But it is recommended to consult with an employment lawyer before taking any action on your own.

Discrimination Lawyer – Free Consultation

If you would like to know if you have a discrimination case against your former employer, call an Los Angeles employment lawyer for a free consultation. There is no obligation to call and this office never charges clients for case evaluation.