How Do I File A California Workplace Discrimination Lawsuit?

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

Top 10 Questions On Filing A Lawsuit Against Your Employer

It is against labor laws for an employer in California to discriminate against a protected class of workers or applicants in California. It involves bias based on

  • race,

  • religion,

  • pregnancy,

  • gender, or

  • medical conditions.

Employees who are discriminated against will file a workplace discrimination claim seeking damages against the employer.

Below, the following commonly asked questions about filing a workplace discrimination case in California are covered by our California workplace lawyers:

1. How do I file a California job discrimination lawsuit?

You usually have to first file your complaint with the Department of Equal Employment and Housing (DFEH) before you can file a case against an employer for employment discrimination in California. Normally, an employee or applicant is expected to first exhaust all administrative remedies. This could mean that before they can file a lawsuit, the employee needs to go through the DFEH complaint process.

Without needing to go through a thorough DFEH or EEOC investigation, you may request an automatic right to sue notification. However, if you request prompt notice of the right to sue, DFEH will not investigate your case. Alternatively, before bringing your case to court, you can also wait until the DFEH dismisses your case or finds no infringement.

According to the DFEH, it is only advisable to move directly to court without the DFEH 's inquiry if you have an attorney. Your lawyer will have the right to contact your lawyer and file your complaint in the Superior Court of California, the county where the discrimination occurred, or another appropriate county.

The "complaint" will be to your employer and everyone else identified as a defendant in the case until you file the case. The defendants in the complaint will respond to the complaint by responding to the allegations in a formal response, and the case can continue via litigation.

It can take a long time for a federal employment discrimination case to find its way through the courts, and it could take years. However, the case is more likely to settle out of court as the case gets closer and closer to trial. The employer and employee may settle before the conclusion of a trial before the court decides on the case.

It can go to trial and be heard by a jury in a jury trial or front of a judge if the case is not resolved. The judge and jury will listen to the evidence and the claims from each side. On each lawsuit, the judge or jury will then make a finding for or against the plaintiff and decide what damages each party will be awarded.

2. How do I determine if I've been discriminated against at work?

Most prejudice at work is subtle. Employers are aware that discrimination may lead to a complaint and take precautions to make sure that the employer or applicant does not put anything in writing or say anything obvious. Signs of discrimination can, however, occur.

The treatment of some groups of workers distinct from other workers could include signs of employment discrimination. When an employer realizes that an employee is part of a protected category, it may also include unexpected employee attitude changes. Such sings of potential discrimination can include:

  • Sudden shifts in reviews of work results.

  • Exclusion from activities and meetings.

  • A shift in work responsibilities or workload rises.

  • Hours reduced or salary reduced.

  • A different application of laws affecting employees of diverse backgrounds.

  • Management inability to bring an end to racist or sexist jokes in the workplace.

  • Making fun of the accent or sexual orientation of a person.

  • The lack of consideration of applicants with ethnic-sounding names.

Employers that are in the same protected class may also discriminate against workers. An African-American supervisor, for instance, may discriminate against an African-American worker or applicant. Because of her gender, a female employer may discriminate against a female applicant.

3. In California, am I in a safe class?

It is illegal for an employer in California to discriminate against an employee under the California Equal Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) on the grounds of:

  • Race

  • Religious creed

  • Color

  • National Origin

  • Ancestry

  • Physical Disability

  • Mental Disability

  • Medical Condition

  • Genetic Information

  • Marital Status

  • Sex

  • Gender

  • Gender Identity

  • Gender Expression

  • Age

  • Sexual Orientation

  • Military and Veteran status

Workplace discrimination can affect everyone. Minorities are not limited to prejudice. Discrimination against someone in California based on any of the definitions above is illegal in the workplace. Many forms of discrimination in jobs are also prohibited by federal law.

If an employer in California discriminates against an employee based on an individual's perceived race, sexual orientation, disability, or another protected group, it is therefore unconstitutional. This means that even if the employer is mistaken about the employee's status, they will still be in breach of the discrimination rule.

For example, because of how the candidate dresses or behaves during a job interview, an employer believes an applicant is gay. The employer does not want gay workers to be employed. For discrimination based on sexual identity, the employee files a lawsuit against the employer. The employer is also violating California regulations for discrimination based on presumed sexual orientation if the applicant was not married.

It is an unlawful work practice under the FEHA for an employer to discriminate against an individual in any aspect of employment. It involves:

  • Refusing to recruit or hire

  • Refusing to pick a person for a training program

  • Employee aiming, bearing or discharging.

  • Discrimination against a person in terms of wages or work opportunities, opportunities, or privileges.

In any field of jobs or hiring, employment discrimination is forbidden, including:

  • Refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation

  • Refusing to engage in a timely, good faith interactive process with employees in need of a reasonable accommodation

  • Refusing to hire

  • Refusing to select for a training program

  • Demotion

  • Reduced pay

  • Deny a promotion

  • Deny reinstatement

  • Deny benefits

  • Forcing an employee to quit

  • Harassment

  • Assign different duties

  • Discrimination in any way

Anti-employment discrimination laws are not confined to employers. Unions and labor unions that are forbidden from excluding, expelling, or limiting membership based on discriminatory groups are also subject to workplace discrimination laws.6 Discrimination restrictions also extend to apprenticeship training programs and employment agencies.

4. Is it prejudice if I've never been recruited?

Before an employee is ever employed, workplace discrimination laws often refer to work applications, job candidates, and interview circumstances.

An indication of possible employment discrimination violations could be incorrect work application forms or questions during an interview. When asking questions about an employee, an employer can violate employment laws:

  • Nationality

  • Ancestry

  • Race

  • Religion

  • Sexual orientation

  • Maiden name

  • Birthplace

  • Marital status

  • Requiring a photograph

  • Mental or physical disability

  • Arrest record

If other prospective workers are still not expected to take such tests, or if the test is not work-related and compliant with business requirements, employers can not ask the applicant to take a medical or psychological test. However, an employer can ask job applicants whether they can perform the essential tasks of the job and how they will perform the tasks.

Once a job is offered to an applicant, the employer will only condition the job on the applicant passing a medical examination or answering medical questions if all new workers in a similar job role have to answer these questions or take a medical examination.

5. Do I need to first file a complaint with HR?

If an employer has declined to hire an applicant for racial purposes or an employer discriminates against an employee, prior to filing a discrimination complaint, there might be no need to go to human resources. However, it may be appropriate or advised to guide a complaint to a supervisor or human resources office before filing a lawsuit, depending on the form of discrimination or abuse involved.

If a co-worker or other non-supervisor is involved in workplace abuse, the employer can only be responsible if the employer was incompetent. This implies the employer needs to:

  • Know that abuse was taking place or should have known; and

  • The employer did not take prompt and adequate remedial measures.

  • The employee's discrimination case would depend on whether the employer took reasonable steps to discourage workplace harassment and how the employer responded to complaints or signs of harassment at the workplace.

Employers must have "fair accommodation" for candidates and workers who, because of a medical condition, impairment, or pregnancy, cannot perform the basic functions of the work.

Employers must also communicate with workers in need of fair accommodation in a timely, interactive process of good faith. This is to decide whether a suitable accommodation will allow the applicant or employee to perform the job to fulfill the required functions.

The employee may express their needs to a supervisor or human resources representative if an employee or candidate needs appropriate accommodation to perform the job. The employee is also entitled to file a complaint with the EEOC or the DFEH if the employer is not receptive or does not provide sufficient accommodation.

6. Do I need to file an EEOC complaint if I have been discriminated against?

Discrimination against jobs may be a breach of both California state and federal law. Many federal workplace discrimination regulations are administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC). The state agency that manages most workplace discrimination is the California Department of Equal Employment and Housing (DFEH).

In certain cases, however, California law has greater protections than federal law for anti-discrimination cases. California, for instance, explicitly forbids transgender discrimination and sexual orientation-based discrimination. Federal legislation has provided gender identity rights, but under federal anti-discrimination laws, such classes are not expressly cited.

For employers with at least 5 workers, California laws can also apply. Some federal rules, however, only apply to employers of 15 or more employees. For these reasons, instead of the EEOC, many people in California tend to file a job discrimination complaint with the DFEH. But, in certain instances, both agencies will cross-field a complaint.

The employee is typically expected to exhaust all administrative remedies first if an employee wishes to file a lawsuit against the employer for workplace discrimination in California. This could mean that before they can file a lawsuit, the employee needs to go through the DFEH complaint process. However, without waiting for the administrative process first, your attorney can file a complaint with the DFEH, hire a California employment lawyer and obtain an immediate right to sue notice.

You may file a complaint about workplace discrimination directly with the DFEH. Generally, within three years of the last instance of discrimination, abuse, or retribution, you must request a pre-complaint investigation. There are, however, exceptions to this period, such as where the individual did not hear about the unethical activity until after three years had expired.

You may lodge a complaint against your employer online, by phone, or by printing and mailing the correct form from the DFEH website. An intake interview with the DFEH will begin the pre-complaint review and help decide if a complaint can be considered for review.

Within 60 days, an investigator will contact the person who filed the complaint to review the specifics of the alleged discrimination or abuse. If the DFEH delegate decides that the case will not be dealt with by the state of California, the claim will be dismissed, and the individual has the immediate right to sue their employer in court. If the representative acknowledges the pre-complaint inquiry, a complaint will be prepared and sent to the employer for your signature. At this stage, the claim may also be dual-filed with the EEOC and your employment lawyer will be able to advice you on the next course of action.

The DFEH will check the response after the employer responds to the complaint. The DFEH will, in many cases, offer dispute resolution services that provide the employee and the employer with a means to discuss a resolution of the complaint. If the complaint can not be settled by mediation, an investigation would be launched by the DFEH.

An investigation into workplace discrimination will determine if a violation of California anti-discrimination laws has occurred. The case then will go to the DFEH Legal Division if the investigation determines there has been a breach. The case will be closed if there is no infringement. The employee also has the immediate right to appeal their case to court if the case is closed.

Generally, the DFEH Legal Division demands that the parties go through mediation. Mediation is a method of alternative conflict-resolution where the parties find a mutually satisfactory solution through a neutral mediator. The employer and employee will attempt come up with a way to resolve the conflict in a constructive settlement, without leaving it up to the courts to determine the result.

When the parties cannot resolve the conflict through mediation, the DFEH can bring a lawsuit against the employer on behalf of the employee. If the DFEH fails to prosecute the allegation, the investigation will be closed, and the employee has the immediate right to bring a complaint against the employer.

7. Since I have been discriminated against, how long do I have to sue my employer?

It is a civil right under California law to seek and maintain jobs without discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and other forms of unlawful discrimination. Employees who are discriminated against will file an unfair discrimination lawsuit against their employers.

For racial discrimination breaches, you have a limited period to file a lawsuit against your boss. The time limit in contingent upon, in part, on how you have treated your complaint. However, in certain situations, depending on the circumstances, these deadlines may be longer or shorter.

Discrimination Rule Violations in California

In general, within three years of the last instance of job discrimination or retribution, you need to file a complaint with the DFEH. Before you can bring a complaint in civil court, you have to get a Right-to-Sue notice. You have one year to file a case in state court after the state gives you a formal notice of your right to sue or doesn't pursue your petition.

Federal Violations of Discrimination Act

You usually have up to 180 calendar days to file a lawsuit if you are filing a federal workplace discrimination lawsuit. However, when a state or local government enforces workplace discrimination legislation on the same grounds, the EEOC deadline can be pushed to 300 days. Employees will have 300 days to file an EEOC application on most job discrimination cases in California.

You have to get a notice of the right to sue to file a federal workplace discrimination lawsuit. The employee usually has 90 days to file a lawsuit in federal court after the EEOC issues a notice of right to sue.

As soon as you can, get a referral to a pre-screened employment lawyer and ensure that you have enough time to submit your claim and take your case to court.

8. What are my expenses in a California job discrimination lawsuit?

The benefits available in an employment discrimination case will depend on various variables, including the degree of discrimination, whether you have been subjected to abuse, and the type of harm to the worker or job applicant. This can include penalties for money, punitive damages, and equal remedies.

Employment discrimination-based cash benefits can include damages from:

  • Back wages (with interest)

  • Front pay

  • Loss of income from a missed promotion

  • Reduced pay after a demotion

  • Benefits

  • Pension benefits

  • Bonus payments

  • Pain and suffering

  • Emotional distress

A lawsuit for job discrimination may also request equal remedies. Equitable remedies can force certain acts to be taken by an employer. For example, if, for a discriminatory reason, an applicant has not been hired, the court may order the employer to hire the employee. The court can also require the employer to provide the worker with appropriate accommodation.

Applicants or workers who have endured workplace discrimination or abuse may also request damages for the expense of attorney's fees and court expenses in most employment discrimination cases.

An employee may also be entitled to obtain punitive damages when the employer's conduct is extremely severe or malicious. Punitive damages are damages that are supposed to compensate for the employer's wrongful conduct. Punitive damages often serve as a means of deterring the employer or other employees in the future from engaging in similar unlawful conduct.

9. Will I be fired for filing a lawsuit for discrimination in the workplace?

It is unnecessary to retaliate against California employees for alleged discrimination in the workplace against other staff, candidates, or co-workers.

The FEHA covers staff who are reprimanded for:

  • Opposing harassment in the workplace

  • Opposing discrimination in jobs against other workers

  • Reporting discrimination in jobs or abuse in the workplace

  • Assist with investigations or official inquiries by DFEH

An employer does not dismiss a worker for filing a complaint about discrimination or harassment in the workplace. An employee's dismissal for filing a petition for discrimination in the workplace is a retaliatory move and can be known as "wrongful termination."

The employee may be entitled to file a lawsuit with the DFEH for retaliation if an employer retaliates against an employee within their organization for reporting FEHA violations or any other violations of employment law. An employee who is retaliated against may also file a complaint about harassment or wrongful termination against the employer.

10. How Do I Request An Unbiased Referral To A Pre-Screened, Ethical Employment Discrimination Lawyer In Los Angeles?

  1. You can submit a request online 24 hours a day. Free case review within 15 minutes.

  2. By chat, you'll be connected with a Los Angeles employment lawyer within 5 minutes.

  3. By calling the 24-hour lawyer referral hotline at 1-661-310-7999

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