Both federal and state laws protect employees in California from discrimination in employment. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee based upon the employee’s race, color, national origin, sex/gender, religion, pregnancy, age or disability. California law also prohibits some additional bases of discrimination, such as marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Employers may not terminate employees, demote them, lay them off, or deny advancement or other privileges of employment based on any of the above-protected classes.

At JML Law, our discrimination attorneys represent employees in Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Francisco and throughout California who have suffered unlawful discrimination on the job. In addition to bringing discrimination claims on behalf of employees.

Types Of Unlawful Discrimination

  1. Disability Discrimination: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and FEHA, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee because of his or her physical or mental disability, because he or she is perceived to have a disability or even based on his or her association with someone with a disability or a perceived disability. Employers must provide a reasonable accommodation to qualified employees with disabilities so long as the accommodation does not cause an “undue hardship” for the employer. Employers and employees must also participate in a good faith, interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation.
  2. Sex and gender discrimination: The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII prohibit discrimination or unfair treatment on the basis of an employee’s sex. The state and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from paying employees of one gender less than employees of another gender. California and federal laws also prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. California law additionally forbids discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
  3. Pregnancy-discrimination: It is unlawful under both California and federal laws to fire or discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
  4. Religious discrimination: Under both California and federal law, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of his or her religion or religious practices, including religious dress or need to take time off for religious services or holidays.
  5. Race and national origin discrimination: Under both California and federal law, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his or her race, color, ancestry or national origin. National origin means the country an employee was born or whether his or her ancestor came from.
  6. Age Discrimination: Under FEHA and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on age. To qualify for the protections of these laws, the employee must be 40 years of age or older.

What Is Unlawful Employment Discrimination?

To prevail in a job discrimination-action, the employee must show that the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee and that the adverse employment action was motivated by discrimination. Types of adverse employment actions include:

  1. Wrongful Termination or firing
  2. Constructive discharge (where working environment became so intolerable that resignation becomes appropriate)
  3. Demotion, Transfer or unfavorable job assignment
  4. Reduction in pay
  5. Failure to interview or hire
  6. Denying promotion or advancement
  7. Any other employment decision that materially affects the terms and conditions of employment

Not all discrimination claims are as clear-cut and it is often challenging to prove that an adverse job action is discriminatory because employers rarely admit they acted with a discriminatory motive. An employee must do more than show that an employer’s decision is unfair or wrong — employees must have evidence that the action was motivated by discriminatory bias. Evidence of discrimination can typically be found in biased remarks by supervisors and co-workers or hiring practices, such as when employees of one ethnicity are systematically replaced with people of another ethnicity. Workplace statistics can also be a good indicator of discrimination by showing that certain policies or practices have a disparate impact on particular groups.

But What If I Was An At-Will Employee?

Discrimination law is often misunderstood. California, like most states, presumes that employment relationships are “at-will,” which means that employees can be terminated at any time, for any lawful reason. However, even with the at-will presumption, employers cannot fire employees for unlawful reasons.


Again, workplace discrimination comes in many forms. This can sometimes make it difficult for a victim to even fully realize if they are being treated in a discriminatory manner.

Some find it is easier to understand whether an action, behavior, or policy qualifies as an example of workplace discrimination by separating discrimination into two categories: disparate treatment and disparate impact.


Disparate treatment is the less subtle of the two forms of discrimination. This is because actions or behaviors that qualify as examples of discrimination in its disparate treatment form are often intentional.

Disparate treatment, as the name implies, involves an employer treating certain employees differently based on their membership in a protected class or group. Examples of this form of discrimination include (but are not necessarily limited to) the following:

  1. Refusing to hire employees of a certain race/gender/religion/etc.
  2. Not offering promotions to employees based on their membership in a protected class.
  3. Not allowing employees who belong to a protected class or group to participate in training programs or take advantage of other resources/programs that could otherwise allow them to advance within the company.
  4. Disciplining members of a certain group more harshly than others.
  5. Demoting or firing employees based on their membership in a certain group or class.

Disparate treatment may also involve behaviors that create a hostile workplace environment for an employee. Examples include:

  1. Racial jokes
  2. Use of slurs
  3. Stereotyping, even if someone is “just joking” when doing so
  4. General mistreatment of employees based on their race/religion/gender/etc.


Again, discrimination that falls under the heading of disparate treatment is often intentional. However, it’s important to understand that discrimination can occur in the workplace even when an employer doesn’t actively mean to discriminate. If a policy has a negative effect on members of a certain group, it may represent the disparate impact form of workplace discrimination.

Our current understanding of discrimination in the form of disparate impact has its roots in the Supreme Court case Griggs v. Duke Power Co.

This case involved what may have been unintentional discrimination against Black employees at Duke Power’s Dan River Steam Station in North Carolina during the 1950s. During this time, Black employees tended to only find work in the company’s Labor department. This put them at a financial disadvantage, as the lowest-paying jobs in any other departments still paid more than the highest-paying job in the Labor department.

Black employees were essentially forced to work almost exclusively in the Labor department because the company had established such policies as requiring employees to show they had a high school diploma in order to work in any other department. Historically, this was a time when it was not uncommon for Black employees at the company to not have high school diplomas.

The Supreme Court eventually decided that not possessing a high school diploma did not render someone unable to fill certain roles in departments outside of the company’s Labor department. Thus, even if the policy of requiring high school diplomas to work outside of the Labor department was not designed to be discriminatory, because it did not serve a legitimate business purpose, but did result in a disparate impact on certain employees, it qualified as an example of discrimination.

Maybe your employer has such policies. If you think you or other members of a protected class have been unfairly affected by company policies, review your case with a Los Angeles discrimination lawyer.

Do Not Wait

There are strict deadlines on pursuing discrimination claims. In California, employees have one year from the discriminatory act to file with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If you think you may be a victim of discrimination, please contact our discrimination attorneys at JML Law for a free case evaluation.

Call JML Law at 818-610-8800 or email us to schedule a meeting with an employment law attorney. We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis. If we don’t obtain a favorable settlement or verdict in your case, you don’t pay attorneys’ fees.

Get your questions answered.

Contact Our Lawyers.

Every case is unique and needs to be evaluated by our experienced lawyers. If you have been injured in a work-related accident.

give us a call at 818-610-8800 or send us an email to schedule a free initial consultation. There is no risk to meet with us. We get paid only if we win your claim.