California Racial Discrimination Attorneys

Black employee being discriminated

Race, Ethnicity, Or National Origin-Based Discrimination

Everyone deserves to work in a supportive, safe and fair environment. Harassment and discrimination have no place in the modern workplace. When employers fail to provide it, both California and federal law provide protections for employees. 

California prohibits racial harassment that is pervasive or severe.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits harassment of an employee based on race, ethnicity or national origin. Examples of harassment include racial slurs, banter, ridicule or taunts, offensive or derogatory remarks or insults about a person’s race or color, or the display of racially-offensive symbols. However, harassment need not take the form of explicit racial slurs to create a hostile working environment. It creates a hostile working environment where it sufficiently offends, humiliates, distresses or intrudes upon its victim, so as to disrupt an employee’s emotional tranquility in the workplace, affect the employee’s ability to perform the job as usual, or otherwise interferes with and undermines the employee’s personal sense of well-being. Moreover, the California Legislature amended FEHA, a state law, to clarify that “[a] single incident of harassing conduct is sufficient to create a triable issue regarding the existence of a hostile work environment if the harassing conduct has unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff’s work performance or created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”  Cal. Gov. Code, § 12923(b).   

An employer may be liable if a supervisor engages in harassing conduct.

An employer is liable for the harassing conduct when the harasser is in a supervisory position or when an employer is on notice but fails to take sufficient steps to deter future harassing conduct. A “supervisor” is an individual having the authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward or discipline other employees, or the responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend that action, if, in connection with the foregoing, the exercise of that authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.   

An employer may be liable if it is on notice and does not stop the harassment.

An employer may be liable for racial harassment by a co-worker if it failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring. It is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent harassment and workplace discrimination. This duty requires that the employer respond promptly and properly to allegations of harassment or racial discrimination that are known to it. Once an employer is informed of the harassment, the employer must take adequate steps to stop it. The measures need to include immediate corrective action that is reasonably calculated to end the harassment and to deter future harassment.   

Retaliating against an employee for complaining about the harassing or discriminatory conduct violates California law.

California law prohibits retaliating against individuals who have filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding regarding race, color or national origin based harassment or discrimination.   To establish retaliation, an employee must show that he or she engaged in a protected activity; the employer subjected the employee to an adverse employment action; and the protected activity and the employer’s action were casually connected. An employee’s formal or informal complaints to a supervisor regarding unlawful harassment or workplace discrimination is a ‘protected activity’ and actions taken against the employee after such complaints may constitute retaliation. Close proximity in time between complaints of harassment and employment discrimination and the adverse employment action creates a legal inference of unlawful retaliation.

Threats and intimidation based on race, color or national origin are also illegal under the Ralph and Bane Acts.  

If an employer interfered or attempted to interfere with an employee’s rights by threats, intimidation, or coercion (and did so other than by speech alone, unless the speech itself threatened violence, then an employee may have a claim under the Bane Act.  Similarly, California’s Ralph Act provides a remedy for victims of violence or intimidation by threats of violence because of their protected characteristic. Note, a plaintiff may still prevail where the threats were merely verbal. 

Discriminatory policies are illegal.

Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he or she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.

An employment policy or practice can be illegal if it has a negative impact on the employment of people of a particular race or color and is not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business. Examples of discriminatory company policies include: 

  • bans on religiously significant garments, such as headscarves; 
  • bans on afros, beards or dreadlocks that may discriminate on the basis of race or religion;
  • U.S. Citizen policies only that may discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. 

Note, an employer may raise the Bona Fide Occupational Qualification defense, amongst others, to the above examples. To prevail the employer would need to, at minimum, demonstrate the employee would be unable to perform the job otherwise, or some employees in the above category would be unable to perform the job, and testing each individual to determine if she could perform the job would be impossible or impractical. 

Note, discrimination based on race, color or national origin can include treating someone unfavorably because the person is associated with a person of a certain race or color, such as a spouse or a relative. 

Additionally, it is important to note that discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same race or color.

If your rights have been violated you may be entitled to damages.

Under state and federal law, you might be able to recover damages, such as emotional distress and lost wages. Additionally, under the FEHA as well as federal law you may be awarded punitive damages as well as your attorney fees and costs if you prevail. If your conditions of employment were impacted by employment decisions based on your race, color or national origin, you should contact a race discrimination attorney.  

Contact us today for a case evaluation.

If you have been wronged by your employer, you may be scared and unsure of your rights. If you are interested in learning more about your rights, discussing your potential discrimination claims and obtaining legal advice from an employment attorney, please contact the Avloni Law Firm today for an initial consultation.  

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