No matter what another coworker, employee, or supervisor says, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are not okay in California. California and federal laws protect employees against unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. If you have been subject to discrimination or harassment and your employer does not immediately fix the situation or if your employer retaliates against you for filing a harassment complaint, you may be able to file a claim for damages.
There are a number of state, federal, and Los Angeles County laws that protect employees against unlawful treatment at work. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides broad protections for workers who are discriminated against. Violations of the FEHA may result in back pay, benefits, and reinstatement for employees.
The employment attorneys at Sirmabekian Law Firm understand how companies intimidate and shame employees so they can get away with discrimination or failing to take action when an employee is being harassed. We know the tactics that employers try to use to hide illegal actions and retaliation. We will use our experience and the law to resolve your retaliation, discrimination, and harassment claims in Los Angeles.
To better understand workplace retaliation, employment discrimination, and harassment in Los Angeles, we answer some of the most common questions, including:
- What is the difference between harassment, retaliation, and discrimination in California?
- How does the FEHA protect against discrimination and harassment?
- Types of illegal workplace harassment in California?
- Examples of unlawful discrimination in the workplace.
- What to do after discrimination or harassment in the workplace?
- Can I be fired after complaining about harassment or discrimination?
- Do you need an employment attorney to represent you in a California discrimination or harassment complaint?
This page provides an overview of workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation for L.A. workers and links pages to relevant employment law topics. If you still have questions after reviewing these pages, contact our office to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
Harassment, discrimination, and retaliation may be separate events or incidents or could all occur together. Generally, the differences between harassment, retaliation, and discrimination are as follows:
Harassment is unwelcome conduct in the workplace that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or other protected class. When the unwelcome conduct interferes with the person’s ability to do their job or creates a hostile work environment, it may be considered unlawful harassment. A hostile work environment is a situation where a reasonable person would consider the conduct to be intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
Workplace harassment also includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is not limited to physical harassment, but can also include unwelcome jokes or remarks, verbal harassment, statements about the way an employee looks, requests for sexual favors, or sexual advances.
Discrimination in employment is treating an individual or group differently based on certain protected categories, including race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Employment in California is “at-will,” meaning an employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all. But an employer cannot fire an employee for discrimination based on a protected class.
Unlawful discrimination includes all business practices, from posting ads for jobs to things like the interview process, the hiring process, promotions, training, continued employment, and termination.
Retaliation is taking action that might deter someone from participating in activity protected by California labor laws, anti-discrimination laws, and whistleblower laws. Retaliation can include:
- Threatening to fire,
- Pay reduction,
- Worse working conditions,
- Reducing or eliminating benefits,
- Threatening to call the police or immigration, or
- Deny a promotion.
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects against unlawful discrimination in the workplace and housing. Illegal discrimination applies to protected individuals based on the following:
- Ancestry or national origin
- Religion or creed
- Age (40 and above)
- Disability (mental and physical)
- Sex or gender (including pregnancy, breastfeeding, childbirth, or related medical conditions)
- Sexual orientation
- Gender expression
- Gender identity
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Military and veteran status
The FEHA applies to public and private employers, as well as labor organizations, and employment agencies. The FEHA protects employees, job applicants, independent contractors, unpaid interns, and volunteers.
PERCEIVED OR ACTUAL BASIS
Protections also apply for an actual or perceived basis for discrimination. For example, an employer fires Yasmeen because the employer does not want Muslims working at the company. Yasmeen files a complaint. It turns out Yasmeen is not Muslim. However, the employer would still violate the FEHA even if the employer was wrong about Yasmeen’s religion.
The FEHA does not necessarily protect individuals from discrimination based on another status. For example, an applicant comes in for an interview for a sales position at a high-end clothing store. The interviewer says to the applicant: “There is no way we’d hire you. Look at the way you are dressed. You look very unprofessional with those wrinkled clothes.” The interviewer may be discriminating based on the way the applicant looks but clothing is not a protected class, and it may not be unlawful discrimination.
However, an employer may claim that they are discriminating against an applicant or employee for a not-protected basis only as a way to cover their actual reason for discrimination.
Employers in California are required to “take reasonable steps,” to prevent and correct wrongful behavior in the workplace. When an employee reports harassment, the employer should take action to make sure that harassment does not continue and the employee reporting the harassment is not subject to further harassment or retaliation.
Quid pro quo harassment is one of the most obvious types of harassment, which means “this for that.” This type of harassment may include a supervisor who tells an employee that they will get a raise if they provide sexual favors. Similarly, it would include a supervisor who tells an employee they may be in the next round of layoffs if they don’t be sexually cooperative.
The other main type of workplace harassment involves a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment involves conduct that renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive. This could include telling racist jokes, using demeaning terms, using indecent gestures, sabotaging the victim’s job, or engaging in physical conduct.
For example, Henry and David work together in a logistics company in Los Angeles. David was born in Mexico but Henry does not know David is Mexican. Henry tells a lot of racist jokes at work, including jokes about Mexicans. Henry tells David, “We white guys gotta stick together.” David complains to the supervisor who talks to Henry about not making any more racist jokes or comments. Henry tells David that some other employee must have ratted him out but continues to make racist jokes. Depending on the circumstances, David may have a claim for a hostile work environment against the employer.
Discrimination is not always out in the open. An employer may not tell an applicant that they are not being hired because of their race, religion, or perceived sexual orientation. In many cases, it can be difficult to identify discrimination. Instead, there may be many “signs” or signals of workplace discrimination that can be used to show the employer violated California labor laws.
For example, a job ad asks for applicants to join the “young and hip marketing team.” Even though the ad does not specifically restrict applicants who are over 40 years old, it may be considered discriminatory based on applicant age by appearing to prefer young applicants over older applicants.
Employees who are subject to workplace harassment may need to report the harassment to a supervisor. The employer is generally liable for workplace harassment if the supervisor knows or should have known about the conduct and fails to take corrective action. If you are unsure whether or not to report harassment to your supervisor or to file a complaint, talk to your LA employment law attorney for advice.
If you are subject to unlawful discrimination in the workplace, your claim may be filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Discrimination complaints are generally required to go through administrative remedies before the employee can file a lawsuit. However, your attorney may be able to seek an immediate right to sue without having to go through the DFEH process.
If someone is fired after complaining about harassment or discrimination, the employer may be illegally retaliating against the employee. In California, retaliation is described by the Fair Employment Housing Act as
any unpleasant employment action resulting from an individual opposing practices prohibited
An employer cannot retaliate against an employee for reporting harassment or discrimination against themselves or another employee or assisting with a government discrimination investigation. Unlawful retaliation includes termination, demotion, or other adverse employment action.
Too many people suffer from continuing discrimination and harassment every day at work. They may not think they can do anything about it or they may not want to put their job at risk by reporting it.
The law protects you against unlawful discrimination, harassment, and illegal retaliation after reporting violations. Reporting Discrimination and harassment may help other workers from having to go through the same thing in the future.
Contact Sirmabekian Law Firm online or at 818-473-5003 to schedule an appointment to speak with an attorney who has the skills and experience to help make sure you get the best outcome for your discrimination or harassment claim. An initial consultation will not cost you anything and you will be able to get an idea about your rights and options to move forward.
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