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What are Protected Classes in California?

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The federal and California anti-discrimination laws entitle certain persons to file an employment discrimination claim against an employer. These individuals are those considered under the law to belong to a protected class.

Under the law, it is illegal for an employer to adopt policies that treat certain workers differently or impact them differently simply because of their status. This means that if your employer subjects you to unlawful negative treatment such as refusing a raise that you have earned, you may be able to seek redress against them.

However, in order to establish your claim, you must first show that you belong to a protected class and were discriminated against on that basis. While this may seem straightforward in theory, it is rarely that easy in practice.

Employment discrimination laws exist both at the federal and California level and while most of the provisions overlap, there are material differences. Although many of these protected classes seem obvious, it makes sense to approach a qualified employment discrimination lawyer for comprehensive legal advice on your case.

At Eldessouky Law, our California employment discrimination lawyers specialize in providing advice to individuals like you that suspect they may have been victims of employment discrimination. We represent employees from all walks of life. If you believe your rights have been violated, talk to our California employment lawyers today.

In this article, we will discuss what you need to know about what protected classes are, the types of protected classes in California, and how to tell which class you belong to.

What are the Protected Classes in California?

protected classes in california

Protected classes in California include Race, Color, Ancestry, National Origin, Sexual orientation, Gender identity and expression, Sex, Pregnancy, childbirth & related medical conditions, Religion, Disability, Age (for persons 40 and older), Military or veteran status, Status as a victim of domestic violence, assault or stalking, Genetic information, Political affiliation or activities, Medical or health conditions, and Marital status.

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What is the law on employment discrimination?

There are a variety of state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. California’s major law on employment discrimination is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), while a number of statutes govern employment discrimination at the federal level.

Amongst US states, California has one of the most comprehensive bodies of law protecting classes of individuals from discrimination in the workplace. The purpose of the law, as stated in the FEHA, is to uphold the “right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination…”

Under both California and federal law, “any person” can seek the protection of the anti-discrimination laws so long as they are:

  • Employees, including temps and unpaid interns
  • Job applicants
  • Independent contractors (in harassment claims)
  • Immediate family member
  • Volunteers

However, to bring a case against an employer for unlawful negative treatment, a victim must establish certain facts. According to the court in Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal. 4th 317, 353., you must show that you:

  • Belong to a protected class;
  • Performed competently in your job;
  • Suffered an adverse employment action such as termination or demotion; and
  • Possess evidence that shows a discriminatory motive for the adverse employment action.

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What does it mean to be in a protected class in California?

A protected class is a characteristic possessed by a group of persons which makes them more susceptible to discrimination. They are legally protected from discrimination based on these characteristics.

For example, certain people who belong to a particular race or are of a particular age may be treated unfairly simply because of that fact. FEHA and other federal laws declare those characteristics of age and race to be protected, in order to safeguard the right of persons possessing these characteristics to fair employment.

Other types of protected classes include sex, color, national origin and disability. Protected classes do not only include minorities and other obvious classes though. It is likewise illegal to discriminate against people in the workplace on account of their medical status, genetic information, political affiliation and several other characteristics.

Note: Individuals that fall within these classes will be entitled to file a complaint with California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Martin v. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 1718, 1724.

How do I know I am in a protected class in California?

There are several state and federal employment laws that protect certain classes of persons from discrimination in the workplace. While most of these provisions overlap, they are not always similar.

If you possess any of these characteristics, you may seek the protection of the law if you have been treated unfairly by your employer. Contact the California employment discrimination lawyers at Eldessouky Law to understand your rights and options.

Protected classes under federal law

At the federal level, different statutes were enacted at different times to prohibit workplace discrimination. These statutes and the classes they protect are as follows:

  • The Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion and nationality.
  • The Age Discrimination Act, which protects against discrimination on the basis of age.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects against discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities.
  • The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act, which prohibits employers from using genetic information of employees when making hiring, firing and other employment decisions.
  • The Equal Pay Act, which prohibits employers from having different wage rates between genders for the same work.

There are no federal laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at the moment. The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for administering and enforcing these laws.

Protected persons under California law

California has a much more robust system for ensuring the rights of protected classes to fair employment. It has a more comprehensive list of protected classes than what is provided under federal law.

The Family Rights Act, California Equal Pay Act and FEHA protect California employees from discrimination on the basis of:

Related Reads: Can a Job Refuse to hire me because I am Pregnant?

How do I determine which law applies to me?

Since there are material differences between FEHA and other federal law on employment discrimination, there may be instances where you may be protected under one law but not the other.

For instance, while FEHA specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, there is no federal law on the matter. This means that if you have been unfairly treated on the basis of your sexual orientation, remedy may not exist under federal law.

In some instances, you may be entitled to choose which law you want to file your claim under. The Civil Rights Act allows employees to file their complaints under laws that provide equal or greater protection than what is contained in the Act. California Federal Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. Guerra (1987) 479 U.S. 272, 281. So you can choose the law that favors you better.

However, there are other instances where only one of California or federal laws can apply to you. In these instances, you can only file under either law, even if you would obtain more favorable compensation elsewhere.

How do you determine which one would apply? Consider these tips.

  • Type of discrimination: If you belong to a class protected only under federal law, you will be obligated to file under that law. The same applies to classes only protected under California law.
  • Employer size: FEHA applies to employers with 5 or more employees while most federal laws apply to employers with 15 or more. The Age Discrimination Act only applies to employers with 20 or more employees.
  • Location: State laws apply to claims that arise from an occurrence in California. However, when the claims arise on federal property, such as a military base, federal law will apply. Taylor v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 472, 481

Talk to a qualified employment discrimination lawyer

Determining whether you belong to a protected class and what law applies to you will be crucial to establishing your claim for employment discrimination. While this can be straightforward in some cases, it is far from easy in most.

An expert California employment discrimination attorney such as Mohammed Eldessouky can help you understand your rights and how the law applies to you. If you have been mistreated at work simply because of your protected characteristics, reach out to us immediately. We are available 24/7 on 714-409-8991.

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