If you have been harassed in the workplace due to your membership in one of these protected groups, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (Govt. Code § 12940), also called the “FEHA,” may give you the right to file a civil lawsuit for monetary damages against your employer.
If you have experienced harassment in the workplace based on your membership in a protected category, it is important to act quickly, as your time to pursue your civil remedies in court is limited. California law requires claims for workplace harassment to be filed within three (3) years of the most recent incident of harassing behavior, and other, shorter administrative deadlines also may apply in your particular case.
Race, color, ancestry and/or national origin;
Medical condition, physical or mental disability, and/or genetic information;
Age (over 40);
Sex, gender and/or sexual orientation;
Marital status; and/or
Military or veteran status.
Persons of any race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion or marital status are protected from workplace harassment under California law, regardless of whether or not they are a member of a minority group. Harassment based on race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion or marital status is prohibited by the FEHA, even if the harassing individual is a member of a minority group, the victim of harassment is a member of a majority group, or the harassing individual and the victim of harassment are members of the same protected category.
California’s FEHA bars employers from subjecting workers or job applicants to harassment based on a protected characteristic or category, even if the harassment is more subtle than an overt epithet or slur based on one’s race, religion, age, etc. and does not explicitly or directly call out a protected category. For example, a supervisor’s comments to an employee over the age of 40 regarding the slow pace at which he or she works may be a veiled form of prohibited harassment based on age. Likewise, a manager or co-worker’s remarks to another employee ridiculing their accent, hairstyle or hair texture, city or neighborhood of residence, or a variety of other attributes may also be considered prohibited harassment on the basis of race, ancestry and/or national origin.
Not every comment or incident that relates to a protected category will rise to the level of prohibited harassment under California law; passing or isolated remarks, for instance, may not give rise to legal liability. Instead, the harassing behavior or conduct must be severe or pervasive enough that it creates a “hostile work environment” in order to support a legal claim under the FEHA.
“Severe and pervasive” harassment is conduct that changes the victim’s conditions of employment and creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider hostile, intimidating, offensive, oppressive, or abusive. To decide whether harassment is “severe or pervasive” enough to create a hostile work environment, a judge or jury considers all of the available facts and circumstances, such as:
The nature of the harassment alleged;
How often, and over what period of time, the harassment occurred;
The circumstances under which the harassment occurred; and
Whether the harassment was physically threatening or humiliating.
Alleged harassing conduct need not be both severe and pervasive. If the harassing behavior is particularly severe or offensive, it may be unlawful even if it occurred infrequently. On the other end of the spectrum, less objectively offensive harassing conduct may still be unlawful if it occurs frequently over an extended period of time. Depending on how offensive or egregious it is, even a single incident of harassment based on a protected category can be sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.
In the context of a hostile work environment claim, harassment based on a protected category alters a worker or applicant’s terms or conditions of employment if a reasonable person subjected to the same conduct would find that the harassment changed their working conditions in a way that makes it more difficult to perform their job. Because your employer can use poor work performance as a reason for termination, it is extremely important to document and report prohibited harassment to your employer when it occurs.
Unlawful workplace harassment based on a protected category can result from unwelcome and offensive conduct by any employee, whether they are your manager, your supervisor, or a co-worker, as well as from harassment by an employer’s clients, customers and certain other non-employees. If you are being harassed based on your membership in a protected category by a co-worker, client, customer or other person who is not one of your employer’s managers or supervisors, documenting and reporting the harassment you are experiencing is also very important in order to put your employer on notice of that inappropriate conduct
The FEHA bars California employers from firing, demoting, suspending, or otherwise subjecting an employee to negative employment consequences because he or she made a good faith report or complaint about prohibited harassment based on a protected category or characteristic. California employers are also prohibited from refusing to hire a job applicant for reporting or complaining about prohibited harassment.
If you have been the victim of workplace harassment based on a protected category and are concerned about the consequences of reporting that misconduct, we can assist you with the process of reporting harassment to your employer, taking steps to minimize the possibility of unlawful retaliation, and if need be, pursuing your civil remedies in court.
Labor Law PC’s experienced team of lawyers are dedicated to protecting the rights of California workers and ensuring that their voices are heard. If you have experienced workplace harassment based on a protected category or characteristic, whether as an employee, an independent contractor, or a job applicant, we can assist you. Our attorneys value and respect your privacy, and will work tirelessly to help you get the justice that you deserve. Call us today at (877) 77-LABOR for a free consultation.