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Dealing with Racist Coworkers Legally in California

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

California employment law on racial discrimination at work

You have a workplace discrimination claim if you are treated differently and unfairly at work based on your race. While some incidents may be outwardly obvious from the get-go, a lot of discriminatory behavior can be subtle. A prescreened California Lawyer might be able to help you seek damages.

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It is already one thing for a coworker to loudly throw slurs and offensive jokes; it is another to be given more workload than your colleagues. When someone shouts slurs, you know you are being accosted. When you're unfairly getting more tenuous tasks compared to your coworkers, you're still unsure if you have a genuine discrimination claim.

Here are anecdotal examples to help you figure it out:

  • The employer promotes other employees of a different race, even when you are more eligible for it.

  • Your employer or fellow coworkers initiate or tolerate the constant use of offensive jokes and slurs.

  • Hiring officer obviously favors one race or ethnicity over others.

  • HR does not hear your complaints, but the department will consider others'.

  • You are the receiving end of derogatory remarks that specifically target characteristics prominent in people of your race or ethnicity.

  • Office or workplace laws the prohibit the use of your native language or dialect.

  • Your race is considered for employment decisions; i.e., hiring, layoffs, terminations, and suspensions.

Workplace Discrimination is Illegal

Any form of job discrimination is considered an unlawful act, especially when protected characteristics (as defined by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) are the cause of the target's suffering. These protected traits can be any one of the following:

  • Race

  • Color

  • National origin

  • Religion

  • Sex

  • Disability

  • Age (40 and older)

  • Sexual orientation

  • Genetic information

A lot of cases also involve victims being discriminated against for more than one protected characteristic. Although, regardless of it being one or many, it's still illegal to do so in the workplace.

Discrimination (in any form) in the workplace can be extremely damaging for employees, particularly when it leads to wrongful termination, harassment, or retaliation for complaints. Employees should be aware that both federal and state laws exist to protect workers from discrimination in the workplace. These laws protect all employees and cover a number of discrimination categories that courts have recognized as legal.

"Disparate Treatment" vs. "Disparate Impact"

Here are terms that can also help you identify the discrimination you might be experiencing at work:

"Disparate treatment" refers to cases in which ethnicity (or other protected characteristic) is a factor in how one employee is treated compared to another. This is more straightforward. This is classic racism, where biases and prejudices are thrown at a person to the point that it impacts the target's day-to-day life.

These are also considered disparate treatments:

  • You are discriminated against by association. If you are fired, suspended, or your salary was reduced because you are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic (and there is explicit evidence of the protected characteristic being the reason), then it is still an illegal action. If you were fired because you married a Latino man, and there is evidence that it is the actual reason, then you have a discrimination claim.

  • You are discriminated against for perceived protected characteristics. If you were fired or penalized by a manager because they mistook you for someone with a protected characteristic, then it is still discriminatory. If you didn't get the job for the sole explicit reason that the hiring team thought you were African-American, then it is a case of employment discrimination.

The term "disparate impact" refers to established or implemented employment policies or practices that, although seemingly benign on the surface, have a discriminatory impact on the employees.

An example of this is when workplace policies willfully make it difficult for people who use public transportation to do their jobs, all while it's very clear that one ethnic minority heavily relies on public transportation. Disparate impact circumstances aren't necessarily discriminatory, or may not be the intent behind them, but the repercussions have racist undertones.

What Should Employers Be Doing?

Resolve concerns as soon as possible. If you receive a complaint alleging race discrimination, you must investigate the allegations, determine whether they are true, and take corrective action. This is not only mandated by statute, but it will also illustrate to employees that such grievances will not be ignored. Oftentimes, setting aside or postponing the time you'll look into the issue suggests the lack of concern and empathy.

Create robust and straightforward policies. An equality policy in the employee handbook should explicitly state that decisions regarding recruitment, promotion, firing, and other aspects of employment are not made on the basis of a person's race, age, sex, or any other protected characteristic. This should be followed by a workplace policy that holds importance to treating people with respect. Declare the workplace free of intimidation and harassment, and make sure it stays that you. Employers should reiterate that complaints and reports would be taken seriously, with disciplinary action if necessary.

Encourage a Diverse and Inclusive Work Environment. Encourage workers to report any racist actions or behaviors they observe or experience. Employees can be unable to speak up for a variety of reasons, including shame or fear of the repercussions, so it's critical that they believe their complaints will be taken seriously and handled in a sensitive and confidential manner.

Monitor Employees. Remind workers that it is their duty to ensure that their actions do not offend others and that they must immediately stop if they are told that their actions are unwelcome or offensive. Employees pay attention to their actions and how their comments can affect others' feelings.

Managers should be trained. Those in positions of management must be aware of the various types of discrimination, how they occur, and how to respond to any incidents that arise. They'll also need to hear about the company's internal practices, such as grievance and disciplinary procedures.

What are the Laws That Protect You?

Federal Laws

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the most important law that addresses racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the most significant achievements of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and it sought to achieve equality for African-Americans in all aspects of society. The law, however, also applies to all racial minorities, including Latinos and Asians.

Companies that have hired 15 or more employees are covered by Title VII's anti-discrimination protections. It addresses all aspects of employment, such as hiring, firing, promotion, pay, and benefits. Discrimination in creating decisions for any of these is illegal.

Most states also have laws prohibiting racism in the workplace that are even broader. For example, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in California applies to employers with five or more full-time or part-time employees.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

If you believe you have ever been a target of workplace racism, the first step toward filing a formal legal complaint is to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the primary federal agency in charge of racial discrimination claims in the workplace. The EEOC will look into your claims and decide whether or not to take action.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has helped forward cases that have amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages or compensation. If the EEOC finally decides not to take action in your case, they give a "right to sue," which is essentially permission to file lawsuits with a California Employment Attorney.

California Laws

California has one of the broadest protection laws when it comes to workplace discrimination claims. Other than the protected classes already identified by the EEOC, Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)—based in California—have added to and broadened the number of protected classes.

Other the ones from EEOC, here are more that FEHA has identified:

  • Ancestry

  • Physical or mental disability

  • Gender identity and expression

  • Sexual orientation

  • Marital status

  • AIDS/HIV status

  • Medical illnesses and condition

  • Military or veteran status

  • Political participation or affiliations

  • History of abuse, i.e., domestic violence, sexual or physical assault, stalking

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What are the Payable Damages for a Workplace Discrimination Claim?

If you are successful in proving your claims, here's a list of the possible compensation you may be able to collect:

  • Any unpaid wages, whether in advance or retroactively, that are due to the victim

  • Any unpaid salaries with interest

  • Re-employment, if the plaintiff so desired

  • Promotion, if deserved or warranted

  • Wages and benefits that have not been received

  • Damages caused by pain and suffering, as well as mental distress

  • Possible punitive damages

The total monetary compensation available in these cases will be determined by proof or facts presented in court. More evidence helps, so it's best to gather as much as you can as soon as possible. The other factor is how well your workplace discrimination attorney in Los Angeles handles the case, including his presentation and level of communication with you as a client.

How Do I Prove Workplace Racial Discrimination?

It's important to keep track of any racist behavior wherever possible. This is particularly true when the behavior is ingrained in the company's culture. Written proof is preferable, but witness testimony from coworkers may also be useful.

Here's a checklist:

Gather all physical pieces of evidence. May they be in the form of letters that have a blatantly racist tone or language or an itemized pay stub that can be used to compare to those of other employees of the same job position. You might also have copies of printed announcements that show proof of you getting constantly singled out for undesirable purposes compared to coworkers of a different race or ethnicity.

Preserve phone conversations. Don't rely on screenshots. Screenshots can be edited. While there are experts who can prove the presence of photo or digital manipulation, it is best if you keep actual emails and chat conversations. Not only is it more reliable evidence, but it might also help with the speed at which your case is pushed forward.

Video evidence. Even the grainiest security camera footage has been used in court. As mentioned, there are experts who can prove if there have been alterations done to digital evidence. If it doesn't put you in or in any more danger than you already are, record it.

What Can You Do?

Speak with HR. A fast and easy solution for any racial discrimination problem in the workplace is to speak with the company's Human Resource officer. For a prompt answer, tell the HR officer about your discriminatory experiences at work. They are in charge of keeping the workplace environment fair and the employee relationships better.

File a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If your HR department has been unable to address the problem despite the efforts, your next best choice is to file a complaint with the EEOC. You may also file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in Los Angeles (DFEH). These government bodies have the authority to prosecute and mediate racial discrimination cases—even the ones where an individual is filing a case against their actual employers.

Make an appointment with a workplace harassment lawyer in California. Your best choice is to contact a California Employment Lawyer who specializes in racial discrimination litigation. Your workplace harassment lawyer in California will assist you in gathering documentation, writing and submitting legal papers to your employer, and negotiating with your employer to obtain a significant amount of payable damages.

On your own, and as soon as possible, begin collecting whatever evidence you can. You don't want to give your boss enough time to ruin your receipts and documentation. Emails and files can be lost and are difficult to retrieve. You should lose access to your employee accounts if you are dismissed.

Can I Sue My Employer For Racial Discrimination?

Yes. A lot of discrimination claims actually tie-back to a poorly managed workplace environment. Even when it isn't the boss themselves instigating the racial discrimination, a refusal to acknowledge known incidents, as well as non-action from HR, is also illegal.

Employers are held responsible for the abuse you've incurred from your supervisors but not for remarks made by your coworkers. If your coworker's remarks are to be used as a basis for legal action against the employer, the employee must inform or notify the employer beforehand. This is usually accomplished by filing a report with a manager or the company's human resources department about the racist remarks. Depending on the situation, employers can be held responsible for remarks made by coworkers.

If your boss has racially discriminated against you, such as by repeatedly bombarding you with insulting jokes, insults, statements, or behavior related to your race or ethnicity, you have the right to file a race discrimination and harassment complaint against your supervisor and your employer.

More importantly, if it is your employer themselves that subjected you to discrimination, it is still illegal to fire or suspend you for filing a complaint. In fact, firing you after having reported your boss to a higher court is an act of retaliation. When that happens, you have more than just a discrimination claim in your hands. You have one for retaliation, too.

What is Workplace Retaliation?

Filing a complaint against your employer for illegal, discriminatory treatment is a protected practice. The most common alleged basis of workplace discrimination, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is workplace retaliation. Your employer cannot fire you (or penalize you in any way) if you are involved in the following legal practices:

  • You've filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or are a witness in a lawsuit.

  • You've been informing your employer about racial harassment in the workplace.

  • During an employment-related lawsuit, you answered questions.

  • You refused to obey instructions that would lead to unlawful conduct.

  • You turned down unwelcome advances or stood up to bullies to protect a coworker.

  • You asked for special consideration because of a disability or to participate in religious activity.

  • You inquired about wage data from supervisors or colleagues in order to expose unfair pay.

It's important to remember that involvement in the complaint process is protected from workplace discrimination and retaliation in all circumstances. Other acts that oppose employment discrimination are covered as long as the worker acted because he or she believed California labor laws were being broken. Participating in protected activities, on the other hand, would not automatically protect employees from punishment or dismissal.

What are Adverse Job Actions?

These are actions that are likely to impede an otherwise well-performing employee's job performance, development, or promotion opportunities in their chosen field. Acts that simply irritate or tease an employee, on the other hand, are not considered instances of unprofessional conduct.

The true motive for taking adverse job action in the first place is a significant driving factor. It's possible that this is discriminatory, but it's not always the case.

Employers in California are prohibited from taking any action that would discourage someone from opposing or complaining about alleged discrimination if an employee is engaging in unlawful activity. If this is the case, you can contact one of our pre-screened employment attorneys in California right away.

Here are some examples of retaliation by an employer against an employee who engages in protected activities:

  • Reprimanding the employee or making an unfair or inaccurate view of his or her job performance.

  • Transferring the employee to a less desirable role.

  • Making a verbal or physical harassment report.

  • Threatening to report an employee to immigration officials or the police.

  • Growing criticism of an employee without proper justification.

  • Spreading False Information or Gossip Among Employees

  • Making the employee's job more complicated by changing his or her schedule and assigning him or her to a difficult-to-reach role.

  • Changing the employee's job duties to something less appealing.

  • Putting a pay freeze in place.

What Are Other Protected Workplace Practices?

In most cases, if you pursue a retaliation lawsuit, it will be done by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Here are examples of things you can do that companies and employers are not allowed to impede or punish:

  • Pursuing a lawsuit or testifying in one

  • Making a complaint about abuse or prejudice to an employer or HR

  • Refusing to follow workplace rules or orders that are illegal

  • Refusing to follow workplace rules, orders, and practices that may lead to any form of discrimination

  • Resisting sexual harassment or sexual advances (not exclusive to incidents where there is physical contact, verbal harassment counts)

  • Intervening when acts of racial harassment in the workplace are occurring

  • Requesting a disability accommodation

  • Requesting your or other people's religious beliefs be accommodated

Federal Law on Retaliation

Retaliation in the workplace is prohibited by a number of federal statutes:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

  • False Claims Act (FCA)

California Law on Workplace Retaliation

The California Labor Code provides numerous additional provisions against retaliation to workers in the state, in addition to barring retaliation against an employee for many of the same purposes that are prohibited under federal law.

As an example, the California Labor Code forbids retaliation against an employee who does any of the following:

  • Taking time off work to serve as jury

  • Taking time off work to testify in a criminal proceeding

  • Taking time off from work to cope with the consequences of domestic abuse or sexual harassment, or otherwise to ensure his or her own safety and health

  • Taking time off from work to act as a volunteer first responder

  • Requests a break to breastfeed a newborn child

Currently, the employer is not permitted by California employment law to respond to an EEO activity in a way that discourages you from reporting or opposing potential discrimination. If your employer acts in reaction to your EEO operation in the following ways, it may be considered retaliation:

  • Give you evaluation scores that are lower than what you objectively deserve.

  • You are subjected to physical or verbal assault (within or outside the workplace, for as long as it can be traced back to your employer).

  • Nitpicking your work put you under more scrutiny than is warranted

  • You are demoted.

  • They circulate false, defamatory rumors about you with malicious intent.

  • They treat your family members poorly (like terminating a contract with your siblings, spouse, or parents)

  • Threaten you.

  • Reprimand you.

  • Creating a more difficult working environment (i.e., assigns you an inconvenient location when there are other employees who live nearby, give you the hardest tasks, etc.)

Wrongful Termination as a Result of Discrimination

If you were fired from a job because of your race, you already have a wrongful termination suit on your hands. California's Equal Housing and Jobs Act (FEHA) explicitly bans discrimination based on race and other protected characteristics. If you were fired as an act of retaliation, then that's a lawsuit on top of a Wrongful Termination claim.

In general, work in California is on an at-will basis. This guarantees that you can be fired at any time without your boss having to give you a reason. There are cases under which the termination is considered unjust, and you have the right to file a lawsuit. For example, if you are fired because of your race or your affiliation with someone of a different race.

Damages that could be collected as a result of a successful wrongful termination case:

  • Back pay

  • Front pay

  • Compensation for emotional and psychological pain

  • Interests

  • Lawyer fees

  • Court/litigation costs

In certain circumstances, you will be able to recover punitive damages against the employer for truly egregious behavior. However, you may be limited in the number of damages you may recover under Title VII.

It is unlawful (and punishable) for an employer to fire you because of your race or ethnicity or in retaliation for filing a racial discrimination lawsuit or protecting someone else from illegal discrimination, according to the FEHA.

What Do You Do After Getting Wrongfully Terminated?

If you think you were wrongfully terminated for some purpose, you must act in a certain way to ensure that your case is not derailed. Here are a few things do (and not do) when it happens:

  • Return/give back all company property as soon as possible.

  • Whether it's in person or online, never criticize or say something negative about your former employer.

  • Examine a copy of your employment contract, if you have one. Request that your employer write down their reasons for terminating your employment.

  • Do not retaliate against your boss or colleagues in any way.

  • Inquire about obtaining a copy of the personnel file.

  • Examine any job documents you have, including performance evaluations, annual reviews, and any client or customer input.

  • Contact a California employment law attorney who has a history with employment law, wrongful termination, or constructive dismissal.

At this time, you might want to inquire about a severance package. When you hire an California Employment Attorney, you have to let them do the negotiation. This is to ensure you get what you're entitled to. Your lawyer knows their way around the California employment law better than anyone else.

In these situations, employers also attempt to get away with paying the bare minimum, so be prepared to negotiate or inform the boss that they will negotiate with your California employment law attorney .

What is a Constructive Dismissal/Discharge Claim?

An employee may not be fired outright but may be required to work in unacceptable conditions for the reason that is unethical or against public policy. This may make it seem as if the employee was forced to resign.

You may be able to file for a wrongful termination case on the basis of constructive dismissal in violation of public policy and/or the FEHA if you are subjected to racial harassment in the workplace because you are from a different racial minority.

You must prove to the defendant who hired you subjected you to unacceptable working conditions that were so unbearable that a normal, rational person in your position would have no choice but to resign, that the employer deliberately produced or purposely allowed those conditions, and that you resigned as a result of those conditions in order to prove constructive dismissal.

The workplace climate must be exceedingly egregious at the end of your employment for conditions to be considered "unacceptable" at the time of your resignation. For example, if you were subjected to slurs or physical harassment at work because of your race (or characteristics related to your racial background) by several coworkers or your supervisor, and your employer did nothing about it, you would be able to file a constructive dismissal lawsuit.

Furthermore, in order to make a constructive dismissal or wrongful termination claim, the employer must be mindful of the consequences of these clauses. Until resigning, consult with a workplace discrimination attorney in Los Angeles to ensure that the situation has progressed to the point that legal action is required.

Here's a list of what you need to prove for a constructive discharge claim:

  • Working conditions were so bad that any fair person in their position would have considered quitting.

  • The terms would have been made clear to the boss, or else the resignation would have been coerced.

  • The claimant must be able to show that the working conditions were abnormally difficult. They should prove that any reasonable person in their position would see leaving as the only way to deal with the situation and that the employer was aware of the problem but chose to do nothing about it.

Individuals employed in these types of settings should keep track of any contacts they have with their employers about their working conditions. You can make your grievances in writing if possible so that a detailed record can be kept.

In the majority of cases, the court searches for a pattern of such conduct. One-time accidents are usually not deemed serious enough to merit a lawsuit unless the employee can show that the previous incident is likely to lead to more.

Other one-time incidents that the court usually allows include violence, intimidation, or forcing an employee to commit a crime. In the absence of such severe circumstances, however, you must create a pattern of unacceptable working conditions.

When it comes to how your employer behaves, the courts normally look at the following factors:

  • Is the employer aware of the employee's previous concerns about their working conditions, and is it looking into them?

  • Has the employee been asked to take part in any criminal activities?

  • What kind of criminal behavior did the boss indulge in?

  • How long did the employee quit after the unlawful behavior?

What Doesn't Count as a Constructive Discharge?

Constructive discharge should not extend to any case of an employee leaving because of their views of their working environment. Being miserable at work isn't enough; you must feel forced to leave because things are too bad. It's also important that you tell your manager about your situation. If you don't, your claim will be immediately denied.

Stuff like a shouting boss, a rough day at work, or having a rude phone call from a customer can all lead to poor working conditions. If these are one-time incidents, however, it is not considered constructive dismissal. If your case is to succeed, the negativity must have been a constant, on-going thing that leaves you nearly unable to function or perform basic work tasks.

Do You Have to Quit Before it Becomes a Legitimate Complaint?

Staying in a hostile workplace for a long time before leaving does not bar you from making a lawsuit in the same way as being employed by the firm does. The courts in California are generally aware that people need a source of income and that they are willing to put up with horrible circumstances in order to make ends meet. Until deciding to resign, it is also advisable for the employee to try to correct the situation. The easiest way to do this is to sit and file grievances.

If you've wanted to stay in your job for a little longer in the hopes of changing things or saving enough money to get by while unemployed, make sure you keep track of all accidents and grievances. If the situation worsens or an on-going problem creates new problems, you can file a new complaint. Technically, you have not been discharged if you are still working by the firm, so you must wait until you quit before filing any claims.

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When Is a Constructive Discharge Claim Filed?

Wrongful termination cases, including constructive discharge and dismissal claims, are subject to a statute of limitations in California. It's important to file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out.

Otherwise, the courts would just ignore it. The amount of money you will recover depends on the type of wrongful termination case you want to bring in. When it comes to constructive termination in breach of an employment contract, you have two years to file a lawsuit from the date of dismissal. Constructive discharges that arise in breach of public policy, such as being asked to conduct an unlawful act, are subject to the same cap.

When you quit, your manager will try to persuade you that the time limit for filing a lawsuit has expired or that you have no legal options. This is frequently done to deter you from filing a lawsuit. In certain cases, they might be assuming that the two-year restriction period started when you were forced to leave due to bad working conditions rather than when you feel compelled to quit.

Never sign something from your employer that restricts your freedom to sue. You can also seek legal advice to ensure that you are still within the legal deadline for filing a lawsuit.

Where Do You Find An Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles?

  1. Bar associations. Each state has its own bar association, which is responsible for licensing, tracking, and disciplining all lawyers who practice in that state. Several state bar associations provide attorney referral services to the general public for a nominal fee. Cities and counties will have their own bar associations and will offer Employment Lawyer referral services, primarily through the non-profit branches of the bar associations.

  2. There are private referral services available. Referral services can also be offered. For example, connects you with California Employment Attorney after a free case review.

  3. Legal clinics in your area. Some clinics can only refer clients to a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer with the necessary expertise and experience, which are more professional and costly. Around the same time, others may have on-staff employment lawyers that can handle the case for a reduced fee or for free. Look for legal aid clinics in your area by searching for Legal Aid Society or Legal Services in the phone book or contacting the nearest law school.

  4. Non-profit organizations, trusts, and charities are also examples of non-profit organizations. Organizations that lobby for minority groups' legal rights, and local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), may also be able to refer you.

Find California Employment Law Attorney Near Me

Now that you have an idea of how workplace discrimination is legally settled, do you think you have a claim? Even if you're not sure, the best way is to ask a California Employment Attorney for advice. Private firms like offer free initial consultations, even online. Check the 24/7 live chat for any inquiries about your case.


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