For some people, workplace discrimination and harassment is an everyday occurrence. In California, discrimination or harassment in the workplace is illegal when it is based on the worker’s gender, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, medical condition, and marital status. These aspects of identity are referred to collectively as “protected classes” or “protected characteristics.”
In general, illegal employment discrimination occurs when some sort of negative job-related decision is made because of a worker’s protected characteristic. This can include, for example, firing or refusing to hire, demoting or refusing to promote, and differences in pay or benefits.
The law recognizes both individual acts of discrimination and policies that have the effect of discriminating. Knight v. Hayward Unified School Dist., (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 121, 128-29. For example, an employer who requires you to take a test as part of the
hiring or promotion process may be illegally discriminating if that test tends to disqualify a higher rate of persons in a protected class than persons not of that protected class.
It is important to note that, while discrimination is usually obvious to us when we experience it, “proving discrimination” in a legal sense can be a difficult task. Even when proven, it may be hard for the judge or other decision-maker to see discrimination given their relative position of privilege. Therefore, if you know that you’ve been discriminated against, try to think about what facts you could use to convince someone else that discrimination has occurred.
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