Racial Discrimination in the Workplace: Some Basics Regarding California Laws

There are many different types of harassment and discrimination. In California, there are laws protecting employees on their race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, pregnancy, sex and sexual orientation. Further, employers cannot terminate employees for certain public policy reasons. Workplace harassment and workplace discrimination can result in wrongful termination, hostile work environment, and demotion. The following is based on California employment law:

California Law – Discrimination

For discrimination on the job, the employee has to be a member of a protected class. In California, protected classes include race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, sex and sexual orientation.

There are two different types of discrimination, disparate treatment and disparate impact:

Disparate Treatment &endash; Disparate treatment means simple discrimination. This is treating a person differently because of a protected class, like sex or race. Slurs, offensive “jokes” and comments, or other actions against people in protected classes unlawful discrimination if the conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or interferes with work performance.

Disparate Impact &endash; Disparate impact is where a company policy excludes certain individuals from the job or from promotions. For example, a company required all new hires to have high school diplomas, even for janitor positions. African Americans in the company’s geographic area had far less education than whites and were far less likely to have high school diplomas. Since a high school diploma had nothing to do with holding a janitor’s job, and the company’s policy excluded many blacks, this was considered disparate treatment.

Whistle Blowing and Termination and Demotion Based in Contravention of Public Policy

The law will allow employers to terminate, demote or harass their employees for certain reasons, such as race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, pregnancy, sex and sexual orientation. People who have suffered for these reasons have a remedy in the courts.

Along the same lines, the law protects “whistle blowers.” Whistle blowing is when an employee informs government or law-enforcement agency that their employer is breaking the law. An employer cannot retaliate against an employee for whistle blowing.

Employers Cannot Permit Retaliation Against Employees Who Complain About Discrimination

As in sexual harassment law, employers have a duty to prevent racial discrimination in the workplace, and they must permit employees to seek management’s helping preventing it. Employees are protected from retaliation if they complain about racial harassment or discrimination. Employers cannot punish employees directly or indirectly for making complaints, assisting or opposing any prohibited practices such as sexual harassment and racial discrimination. If an employer does retaliate, an employee has grounds for a lawsuit.

Remedies for Employees

Employees who are subject to unlawful termination and harassment may be able to recover the following:

  • Past lost wages and other benefits
  • Future lost wages and benefits
  • General damages: This includes emotional distress and pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorneys fees