Discrimination comes in all forms and happens anywhere -- whether it be in your office, school, place of worship, or at your own home. With that said, various individual states within the country have initiated their own anti-discrimination laws, each having their own definitions, degree, and scope. Ultimately, all of them combine to complement the federal law which aims to offer a more desirable avenue for victims of harassment or discrimination.
With that in mind, the state of California enacted the California Fair Employment and House Act (FEHA) in 1959. Generally, its main objective is to eliminate all kinds of employment discrimination and protect all employees whether full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary. Furthermore, the act expects the following entities to follow its principles:
- Labor organizations;
- Employment agencies; and
- Apprenticeship programs.
The act also encompasses both public and private institutions with a minimum of five employees. Hence, employers cannot argue with the law by using their “terms and conditions” as a defense of any act categorized as discriminatory. Employers, administrative, and/or executive officials must not let their bias influence the way they treat a certain employee; rather, they should be objective and judge a person based on valid criteria such as their performance, work ethics, and qualifications.
As listed in FEHA, it is illegal for employers to discriminate or harass their laborers based on the characteristics below:
- Race or color. This pertains to the categorization of humans based on shared physical, cultural, or social qualities or affiliation with a specific nation. Likewise, it includes the skin color of an individual.
- Religion. Pursuant to the 1st Amendment in the Constitution, every person shall enjoy their rights to religious freedom. Laborers must be permitted to practice their beliefs as long as it does not impede another person's human rights.
- Sex or gender: Sex is defined as the biological endowment of a person based on his/her genital while gender refers to the sexual preferences of the person.
- Age: With respect to the minimum legal working age in California, laborers must not be refused or denied employment benefits due to their age.
- Medical condition: This can be through the form of physical or mental disability, whether biologically inherited or sustained thru life events, unless the nature of the position is not ideal for the PWD. This includes HIV/AIDS, cancer, malformation of body parts, etc.
- Marital status: This describes the person's status in relation to marriage.
Furthermore, employers are prohibited from retaliating or punishing workers who would like to request for family care leave, sick leave, or maternity leave. Employees have every right to request the aforementioned benefits, and employers must grant these benefits especially if the requirements have been fulfilled by the employee.
Meanwhile, we should emphasize the complexity of this statute as there are limitations and expectations to consider. But to understand the basics of it, let us provide a few examples. Suppose that a co-worker has been consistently harassing another employee in your office. His behavior has violated multiple company rules as well as the victim's constitutional rights. You, and a few other colleagues, decided to report your co-worker's violent behavior to the human resource department. However, the head of the department only dismissed your report as a completely baseless accusation to the aggressive co-worker. Furthermore, the CEO of the company also agreed with the department head, saying that your group is only envious of the man because he's white, and white people are the best kind of workers. This is despite all of the evidences your group submitted on their table. Under FEHA, both executive administrations violated the laws of the state and the federal government. They failed to protect the victim's rights by consciously disregarding the prohibited conduct of the co-worker.
Punishments for Violating FEHA
An employer, labor group, or company who treats an employee unfairly for no other reason than having a specific characteristic or trait will face the following legal consequences:
- Compensate for the plaintiff's loss of back pay and front pay for lost future wages if reinstatement is inapplicable;
- Pay for the pain and humiliation suffered by the laborer due to the discrimination/harassment;
- Pay punitive damages;
- Cover the attorneys' fees;
- Initiate a training program introducing the FEHA rules for all low-level workers and higher-ups; and
- For a hate crime case, the guilty party must pay around $25,000.
Take note that all cases are unique. The penalties listed here may differ depending on the facts of your case.
Filing a Lawsuit Under FEHA
Whether seeking an investigation under FEHA or a suit in court, the process usually begins with the victim filing a complaint either by following the DFEH process or the federal EEOC.
After that, you will be granted a “right to sue” notice from the DFEH if they find your case valid. This notice will serve as your go signal to proceed with a lawsuit. The rest of the steps are best discussed with a well-seasoned and experienced lawyer as settlements in FEHA cases can become quite complex and often require complex negotiations.
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