California

Department of Fair Employment and Housing

California is the nation’s third-largest state and its most populous. It’s also arguably the most diverse in terms of its political and cultural perspectives.

California (by itself!) is the fifth largest economy in the world. The state produces a diverse array of goods and services. The state boasts over 36.7 million residents, who work in thriving agriculture, aerospace, high-tech, and computing industries. Los Angeles, the second-largest U.S. city, has long been regarded as the “entertainment capital of the world.” The state’s ports, such as Long Beach, act as major hubs for cross-Pacific trade. 

Yet as profound as California’s economic potential may be, the state has been pummeled by budget crisis after budget crisis this past decade. In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis was ousted in a special election after he repeatedly failed to balance the budget. His successor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (the movie-star-moderate-Republican) met with similar struggles over the state’s fiscal future. Now acting as chief executive of California’s state government is Democrat Jerry Brown, who previously served in that role from 1975 until 1983.

The state agency that deals with employment discrimination is the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This department was created in 1959 to enforce anti-discrimination laws, provide resources to help crime victims, and otherwise advocate for California’s defenseless. The DFEH currently operates under the umbrella of the California Consumer Services Agency.

The DFEH’s raison d’être is to enforce four key pieces of legislation: The California Family Rights Act (CFRA), the Ralph Civil Rights Act (RCRA), the Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA), and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (CFEHA). 

California employment discrimination case decisions often “set the tone” for national legislation. For instance, the extended debate in 2008 over whether the state would pass Proposition 8 (rescinding gay marriage) impacted employment law across the country. Employers and employees alike watched keenly for clues about how the ever-shifting legal landscape with respect to gay marriage might impact on-the-job expectations. (For instance, would the passage/rejection of Prop 8 impact job-related health benefits?)

Although Prop 8 represented a compelling matter for LGBT populations, discrimination in the workforce can occur due to several different factors, including:

  • Disability. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids employers from harassing or treating employees differently due to the existence – or appearance – of mental or physical disability. The ADA defines a disability as any condition interfering significantly with one or more “major functions” of life.

  • Religion. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stipulates employers must take reasonable measures to accommodate employee’s religious practices and beliefs. This includes allowing individuals to wear religious clothing, observe religious holidays, and work free from jokes or criticism from others.

  • Age. Employees over 40 possess protections under the Age Discrimination Act (ADEA) to prevent employers from unfairly targeting them in terms and conditions of employment. Discriminatory practices may include disproportionate layoffs of older staff, hiring less qualified (but younger) individuals, or making inappropriate comments about employees’ age.

If you believe your California employer has violated your rights, familiarize yourself with the various agencies charged with supporting you in the legal process. With the law and an employment attorney on your side, you will be ready to take the first step towards a just outcome.