It is illegal for covered employers to subject an employee or job applicant to an adverse action because of a protected characteristic, or to retaliate against the employee or applicant because they have complained of or opposed discrimination or harassment. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of the following protected categories:
When an employer subjects an employee or job candidate to an adverse employment action because of their real or perceived protected status, or because of their association with a person in a protected status, this constitutes unlawful discrimination. An adverse employment action is a single action taken by your employer, or pattern of conduct your employer engages in, that materially and adversely affects the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Some classic adverse employment actions are terminations, demotions, pay reductions, refusals to hire, failures to promote and suspensions. But an adverse action does not have to come in one swift blow, like a termination or demotion. It can be a series of smaller actions that when viewed together materially and adversely alter the terms and conditions of employment. Employers engaging in unlawful discrimination often avoid a termination or demotion, opting instead for a death by a thousand pin pricks approach, believing this is a way to avoid legal accountability for their discriminatory behavior. But fortunately this is not always the case.
One particular category of disability discrimination that is often encountered in the workplace relates to an employer’s failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for a qualifying disability. Relatedly, employers are under a separate and distinct obligation to engage in a good faith interactive process with the employee in order to explore possible accommodations. An employer’s failure to engage in a good faith interactive process in pursuit of accommodation can give rise to a discrimination claim even if reasonable accommodation is ultimately determined not possible. And it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who requests reasonable accommodation.
The type and extent of remedies available to employees in discrimination cases depend on numerous factors, but often sought remedies include past lost wages, future lost wages, compensatory damages for pain and suffering and attorneys fees and costs. Depending on the facts and legal claims in the case, punitive damages may be available. Additionally, under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and other statutes, while not commonly exercised, the Court has the power to issue injunctive and equitable relief, for instance ordering the promotion of an employee in a failure to promote case.