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16 Types of Protected Classes in California
(Definition & Examples)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

Schmidt & Clark, LLP is not currently accepting these types of cases and has posted this content for information purposes only. We encourage you to seek a qualified attorney, if you feel you might have a case.

Workplace issues such as wrongful termination, discrimination, and harassment can arise in California's "at-will" employment environment, where employers may arbitrarily decide.

Federal and California anti-discrimination laws allow certain individuals belonging to a protected class to file an employment discrimination claim against their employer.

As an attorney with almost a decade of experience in workplace discrimination, I know the challenges of navigating workplace legal issues. This article will provide all the important details about protected classes in California.

Quick Summary

  • In California, protected classes against workplace discrimination include individuals of different races, colors, ancestries, nationalities, religions, sexes, disabilities, and pregnant people.
  • California has more extensive protections for employees compared to federal law.
  • If you experience employment discrimination, it is important to document any incidents, report the discrimination to your employer, and file a complaint with a government agency if necessary.

What Are The Protected Classes in California?

An example of people under protected classes in California

The protected classes in California are groups of people legally safeguarded against workplace discrimination based on certain protected characteristics.

Employers in California are not allowed to discriminate against employees based on certain factors, which include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and medical conditions)
  • Disability: physical or mental
  • Age (40 and older)
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender expression
  • Medical condition
  • Political activities or affiliations
  • Military or veteran status, and

Do note that California has extra protections in place compared to federal laws. Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on membership in these protected classes [1].

There are laws prohibiting employment discrimination at the federal and California state levels, with some differences in their provisions.

Related Article: What is Discrimination in the Workplace?

Protected Classes Under Federal Law

A lawyer on his desk with a gavel

Federal statutes were established to forbid employment discrimination for various protected classes at different times.

The following is a list of the statutes and their respective protected classes:

  • The Civil Rights Act bars discriminatory acts based on race, sex, color, religion, and nationality.
  • The Age Discrimination Act protects individuals from discrimination based on their age.
  • Discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities is prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act prevents employers from using employees' genetic information to make employment decisions such as hiring and firing.
  • The Equal Pay Act mandates that employers cannot pay different salaries to employees who do the same work based on their gender.

No federal laws are currently in place to prevent discrimination based on an individual's gender identity or sexual orientation.

The authority for administering and enforcing these laws lies with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [2].

Related Article: What is Considered Harassment at Work?

Protected Classes Under California Law

Employees of different race working together

California's system for ensuring fair employment rights of protected classes is stronger than the federal law as it has a more extensive list of protected classes.

The Family Rights Act, California Equal Pay Act, and The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protect California employees from being discriminated against for the following reasons:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital status

"The concept of a "protected class" is the foundation of American discrimination law. The same misconduct may be legal or illegal based on whether or not it is motivated by its victim's membership in a protected class."-Julian Burns King.

Related Article: What is a Right-to-Work State?

What Is Workplace Discrimination?

An employee experiencing workplace discriminationWorkplace discrimination is an individual's unfair or differential treatment based on their membership in a protected class. It can come in many forms, including hiring practices, promotion decisions, pay and benefits, job assignments, training opportunities, performance evaluations, and disciplinary actions.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination against job applicants and employees based on a protected category and retaliation against those who assert their rights under the law [3].

This law applies to employers in public and private sectors, labor organizations, and employment agencies, provided they have five or more employees.

It is against state and federal laws for anyone to harass employees, applicants, interns, volunteers, or contractors based on their protected characteristics under the FEHA. This applies to all workplaces, even those with fewer than five employees.

Employers with 5 or more employees are obliged to provide eligible employees time off protected by law, according to the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). 

This time off can be used to care for a family member (child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling) who suffers from a serious health condition or for the employee's health condition.

Related Article: Workplace Investigations Employee Rights

What Actions Should You Take If You Are Facing Workplace Discrimination?

An employee filing a lawsuit due to workplace discriminationsIf you are experiencing workplace discrimination, the actions that you should take depend on your situation's specifics.

However, it is common to file a discrimination claim with the CRD before considering legal action against the employer.

Once the CRD investigates your complaint, you may have the option to file a lawsuit against your employer.

However, if your attorney obtains a right-to-sue notice, you can skip the CRD investigation and directly file a suit with the Superior Court in certain circumstances [4].

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Can You Get Fired For Filing A Discrimination Claim?

No, you can not get fired for filing a discrimination claim. If you file a discrimination claim, your employer cannot legally retaliate against you. They cannot fire, demote, reduce pay, or harass you.

Are There Legitimate Grounds For Discrimination In California?

Yes, there are legitimate grounds for discrimination in California. It is legal for an employer to base their decision on disqualifying someone on a protected characteristic, privacy reasons, authenticity in the arts, or bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).

What Employers Are Subject To The Anti-Discrimination Laws?

Employers subject to the anti-discrimination laws are private employers with five or more employees, state/local government agencies, labor unions, employment agencies, and any employer who receives federal funding. 

What Does Employment Discrimination Looks Like?

Employment discrimination looks like intentional and unintentional unequal treatment based on protected characteristics. This may include refusing to hire someone because of race, gender identity, religious beliefs, age, or another factor.

Are You Being Discriminated At Work?

If you are facing workplace discrimination, don't hesitate to seek help. Reach out to Schmidt & Clark, LLP for a free consultation from one of our attorneys, who are highly skilled and equipped to provide you with the necessary help. 

The lawyers at Schmidt & Clark have a track record of winning employee discrimination cases. They can help you if you face workplace discrimination, including harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, or failure to accommodate. 


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