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Is Political Affiliation a Protected Class in California?

Political affiliation is not explicitly listed as a protected class under California’s anti-discrimination laws. However, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination based on a variety of factors, including race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, marital status, disability, and age.
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What is Political Affiliation?

According to GoodParty.org, a person’s political affiliation encompasses their allegiance to a particular political party or organization, shaping their views and actions in the political realm. This association profoundly influences one’s stance on various issues and their participation in civic engagements [1].

For instance, individuals aligning with the Republican Party often prioritize policies favoring tax reductions, deregulation, and gun rights, reflecting the party’s core principles. Conversely, those identifying as Democrats typically advocate for initiatives like universal healthcare, progressive taxation, and stricter gun regulations, mirroring their party’s platform.

It is important to recognize the power of political affiliation and to consider the potential for independent or third-party candidates to challenge the two-party system. This could open up the political process to a wider range of perspectives and create opportunities for those who may not necessarily agree with the views of the two major parties.

What is a Protected Class?

Protected classes are legally defined categories established by federal law, executive orders, and federal agencies. These classes safeguard individuals from discrimination and harassment based on various characteristics. Understanding these definitions is essential for recognizing discriminatory behavior and ensuring equal treatment in various contexts.

  • Age: In the employment domain, age pertains to individuals aged 40 and above.
  • Ancestry: An individual’s lineage or heritage, encompassing their descent from specific groups or communities.
  • Color: The pigmentation, complexion, or tone of an individual’s skin.
  • Disability: A physical or mental impairment substantially limiting one or more major life activities, or being regarded as having such an impairment.
  • Ethnicity: Shared attributes among a group of people, including traditions, ancestry, language, culture, or social treatment within a particular area.
  • Gender/Gender Identity or Expression: Gender encompasses socially constructed characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity, including a spectrum of identities such as agender, genderqueer, or trans. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of their gender, while gender expression relates to how individuals present themselves based on societal norms.
  • Genetic Information: Details about genetic tests, family medical history, or manifestations of diseases within a family.
  • HIV/AIDS Status: Refers to having or being perceived to have the human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
  • Military Status: Membership, service, or obligation in a uniformed service, encompassing past, present, or future involvement.
  • National Origin: Originating from or perceived to be from a particular country or region, including accent and language.
  • Pregnancy: Refers to the condition of carrying a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring, including related aspects such as childbirth, lactation, or recovery.
  • Protected Veteran Status: Defined under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, covering individuals with specific military service qualifications.
  • Race: Physical attributes associated with individuals sharing common ancestry, such as skin color or facial features.
  • Religion: Sincerely held beliefs or practices related to faith or worship, encompassing various religions or belief systems.
  • Sex: Biological characteristics, including genitalia, genetic makeup, and sex characteristics, typically categorized as male, female, or intersex.
  • Sexual Orientation: Refers to an individual’s emotional, romantic, sexual, and/or physical attraction to others, including identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual.

Understanding these protected classes is crucial for promoting inclusivity and preventing discrimination or harassment based on personal characteristics.

Political Affiliation in the California Workplace

According to SCLG, California labor laws prohibit workplace retaliation based on political beliefs or activity [2]. Employers are barred from implementing rules that restrict employees’ participation in politics or dictate their political affiliations, as outlined in California Labor Code sections 1101 and 1102. Specifically, employers cannot prevent employees from engaging in political activities or running for office, nor can they coerce employees’ political actions through threats of dismissal.

These prohibitions refer to your political activity outside of the workplace. They forbid employers from taking adverse employment actions because of the political activity you did on your own time. They likely do not forbid your employer from making rules about political conduct at the worksite and then enforcing them.

In case of a violation, employees must first notify the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency and provide a copy of the notice to their employer. Subsequently, if the agency fails to investigate within 65 days or opts not to intervene, affected employees have the option to file a lawsuit in California Superior Court. Such legal actions can seek compensation for wrongful termination or retaliation.

Seeking guidance from a reputable law firm with experienced attorneys is crucial if you believe your employer has infringed upon these laws. Consulting with legal professionals can help safeguard your rights and pursue appropriate recourse for any unlawful actions.

How to Identify Illegal Political Affiliation Discrimination

In California, while political affiliation isn’t explicitly designated as a protected class, state law safeguards individuals’ rights to engage in political activities beyond the workplace. Employers are prohibited from penalizing employees for their political engagements outside of work. However, employers may have the authority to limit or discourage discussions on political matters with clients or coworkers.

It’s crucial to grasp that the relevant sections of the Labor Code solely forbid politically motivated actions by employers. There are circumstances where an employer’s actions, related to political activities, might be deemed justified. For instance, an employer might terminate an employee who accepts a political role that significantly affects their availability for work.

Before pursuing legal action against an employer, individuals must file a notice with the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency, outlining the employer’s violation of the state’s workplace political coercion law. This notice must also be delivered to the employer via certified mail. The agency may choose to conduct its investigation into the matter.

If the agency opts not to investigate or fails to notify the individual within 65 days, they have the option to file a lawsuit in California Superior Court against the employer. When the agency investigates a workplace political retaliation complaint, it must inform the individual of its decision within 65 days.

While the agency typically completes its investigation within 120 days and decides whether to cite the employer, this timeframe may extend up to 180 days. If the agency refrains from issuing a citation, individuals are then free to initiate a civil lawsuit for political activity coercion.

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References:

1. https://goodparty.org/political-terms/political-affiliation
2. https://www.shouselaw.com/ca/blog/is-political-affiliation-a-protected-class-in-california/

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