Focused on getting our clients the compensation they need...

The Support You Need. The Settlement You Deserve.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

As an employee in California, you have several legal protections in the workplace. Aside from laws that govern how your employer pays you and keeps you safe at work, both federal and state law have several protections in place for workers who are treated differently because of certain characteristics or perceived differences they have. Legally, this is known as workplace discriminaton, and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the main law that prohibits your employer or coworkers from taking such actions. Even with the FEHA in place for you and other similar coworkers, there are still countless incidents of discrimination and hostility in California workplaces.

Get Help From Experienced California Employment Lawyers

When that happens, knowing your legal rights may not be enough to hold your employer accountable-you will also need the experience and knowledge of our team of California employment lawyers to help you stand up against this illegal discrimination. We are proud to offer free consultations for our potential clients, where you are under no obligation to hire us, even after we discuss your claims. To schedule your free initial consultation, contact us today.

What is the California Fair Employment and Housing Act?

Originally passed in 1959, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the primary means of legal protection from discrimination, retaliation and harassment in the workplace. The FEHA runs concurrent with federal protections for many of the same nondiscrimination and harassment principles, which means that as a worker in California, you are doubly protected under both federal and state law. Specifically, the FEHA makes it illegal for your employer to engage in the following:
  • Discrimination – Discriminaton, as defined under the law, is when your employer treats you or any coworker differently or less favorably than other workers. Discrimination is based on certain characteristics, either legitimate or perceived.
  • Retaliation – Unlawful retaliation occurs when your employer takes an “adverse action” against you based on your status as a protected individual. These actions are typically designed to punish or “retaliate” against you because of your characteristics or voicing concerns in the workplace.
  • Harassment – Harassment can take many forms, and is generally defined as subjecting someone to offensive and unwanted conduct. Workplace harassment can be sexual or otherwise, and must be both severe and occur frequently to be considered unlawful.
The FEHA applies at all stages of employment, meaning that you are protected from the above actions even in the application process, and all subsequent terms and conditions of your employment.

Limitations to the FEHA

Generally speaking, the FEHA applies to every employee in California. However, there are certain restrictions to which workplaces are covered by the law. The FEHA has an “employee threshold” of five or more employees. This means that the FEHA does not apply to employers with less than five employees. Even with this limitation, the FEHA’s provisions against harassment in the workplace has no employee threshold. As such, harassment based on an employee’s protected characteristic is illegal and applies to every employer, regardless of how many employees they have.

What Are the Protected Classes of the FEHA?

Key to the FEHA are the individuals who belong to “protected classes.” Thus, these individuals are legally protected from the FEHA’s provisions against discrimination, retaliation and harassment. These classes include:
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital status
  • Medical Condition
  • Military or veteran status
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Request for family care leave
  • Request for leave for an employee’s own serious health condition
  • Request for Pregnancy Disability Leave
  • Retaliation for reporting patient abuse
These classes are not exclusive, meaning that you can-and probably do-belong to multiple classes

What Else Does the FEHA Prohibit?

Not only does the FEHA protect certain individuals based on the above characteristics, it also prohibits retaliation against any person for reporting FEHA violations, for assisting another in making such a complaint or for opposing FEHA violations in the workplace. Common examples of retaliation include:
  • Getting fired from your position
  • Getting demoted to a lower-ranking or lower-paying position
  • Denied for a promotion
  • Getting harassed
  • Being excluded from staff meetings, training exercises, or other activities available to other employees
  • Getting undesirable work assignments or schedules
  • Having your pay or hours reduced
  • Getting written-up for unwarranted reasons
  • Getting negative performance reviews
  • Losing your benefits
Obviously, it can be extremely demoralizing to have your employer retaliate against you on top of them or others discriminating against you in the workplace. The good news is that, as a California employee, there are a few remedies in place should you experience unlawful discrimination in your workplace.

What Can I Do If My FEHA Rights Have Been Violated?

There are two main remedies in place in the event that your FEHA rights have been violated by your employer: file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and file a civil lawsuit against your employer. Both have benefits and drawbacks, but the motivation for whichever path you choose is the same: stopping your employer’s unlawful behavior.

DFEH Complaint

As the enforcement arm of the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), the DFEH is an administrative body that is charged with enforcing the FEHA in California workplaces. When you initially file your complaint, the DFEH will launch its investigation by:
  • Gathering statements
  • Obtaining evidence
  • Reviewing and analyzing documents
  • Conducting inspections at your workplace
  • Requiring your employer to formally respond in writing to your complaint
After the investigation is complete and your employer provides its written response, the DFEH will likely request mediation and make a ruling. With a ruling in place, the DFEH will close the case and issue a Closing Order and Right to Sue Letter that will allow you to proceed to file a civil lawsuit. Unlike a civil lawsuit, there is no timetable for how long a DFEH claim can last. Further, as an administrative body, the DFEH can only issue orders that your employer change their conduct or policies. The only way to recover financial compensation is to file a civil lawsuit within the statute of limitations.

Civil Lawsuit

Filing a lawsuit is usually the next step after the DFEH complaint process wraps up. Moreover, the evidence obtained and uncovered during the DFEH investigation is admissible in your civil lawsuit. This means that any statements, documents, or testimony that shows your employer discriminated, retaliated, or harassed you can be used in your lawsuit. By the same token, any evidence that your employer provides that proves their side of the story is also admissible. Filing a lawsuit, no matter the circumstances, is always a gamble. However, with our team by your side, a successful FEHA lawsuit could help you recover the following damages:
  • Lost wages, including unpaid overtime
  • Back pay
  • Punitive damages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
Compensation is certainly a practical and good outcome to standing up to your employer. However, it’s important to understand that it also takes an immense amount of courage and fortitude to go forward with a lawsuit against your employer. Most likely, they have significant resources at their disposal to fight back. That’s why it’s important to have our team on your side. We can handle all of the responsibilities of your claim, while also providing you with top-notch legal services and support through what can be an extremely challenging time.

Contact a California Employment and Labor Lawyer.

Discrimination and retaliation can make any work environment intolerable.  Through our years of experience dealing with employers that have violated your rights under the FEHA, we know what it takes to build your case effectively and convincingly so that you can get the compensation you rightly deserve. At Maison Law, we believe strongly in our process and know how to get results. To learn more about this process and how we can help you, contact us for a free consultation.

Additional Resources

Call Now Button