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Types of Workplace Discrimination in California (With Examples)

Types of Workplace Discrimination in California (With Examples) 2024

Workplace discrimination can have devastating effects on an employee’s self-esteem, mental health, career path, and finances, especially if the discriminatory action leaves them without a job. Partnering with a reputable and talented California employment lawyer can be a powerful tool for workers facing discrimination issues, but simply knowing the many different types of workplace discrimination in California can be another key to fighting back against workplace injustices.

Types of Workplace Discrimination in California

To combat discrimination in the workplace, we must first be able to identify it. California law offers robust protections for working people, ensuring that they have legal avenues for seeking justice and fair compensation if they experience workplace violations like discrimination. Actually knowing what does or does not qualify as legally actionable workplace discrimination, however, is sometimes a very nuanced and challenging prospect.

To educate and empower our working neighbors throughout Southern California, the following is a list of different types of workplace discrimination with a helpful example for each.

Race Discrimination

When an employer treats an employee, contractor, or job applicant unfavorably because of their race (or characteristics associated with race), they may be in violation of the law.

Example: Tim, an African American accountant working at a predominantly white office, has performed well in his role for two years but is consistently denied promotions and choice assignments in favor of less qualified and less experienced white candidates.

Gender Discrimination

Gender discrimination involves the mistreatment or unfair treatment of employees based on their gender, their gender identity, or their expression thereof.

Example: Rebecca, a female employee at a public relations firm, discovers that her male counterparts with identical job duties and less experience are all being paid a higher salary than she is.

Age Discrimination

Discrimination against employees or job seekers based on their age is prohibited. In employment law, age discrimination often refers specifically to discrimination against employees aged 40 and above.

Example: Sharon recently turned 50 and works on a factory floor performing the same duties as many other, mostly younger, co-workers. Sharon and two co-workers in their late 40s are laid off due to what their corporate employer calls “evolving staffing needs.” One month later, Sharon learned that the factory was hiring several part-time, entry-level workers for a position very similar to the one she had been laid off from.

Disability Discrimination

State and federal labor laws mesh with the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act to create a comprehensive safety net for differently abled employees participating in (or trying to enter) the workforce. When employees are treated unfavorably or denied basic accommodations because of a disability (or perceived disability), employers can be held legally accountable.

Example: Frank has a degenerative disease that results in severe pain if they have to stand upright for long periods of time and works in the kitchen of a diner as a line cook. Employees are expected to work on their feet, but the majority of Frank’s duties can easily be accomplished sitting on a stool at a corner prep station. Frank’s employer refuses to let them have a stool, and the only explanation they offer is, “That’s not how we do things here.”

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Discriminating against employees and job candidates based on their sexual orientation (or their perceived or presumptive sexual orientation) is also illegal.

Example: Marsha is an openly gay employee at a car dealership. Many of the other employees harass her with offensive jokes and insinuations. When she reports the situation to management, they encourage her to laugh it off and “be a team player.”

Religious Discrimination

Everyone has the right to follow the religion of their choice (or no religion at all) in the United States, and employers are legally bound to respect this fundamental tenet of our society. Taking adverse actions against employees because of their religious beliefs or practices is against the law.

Example: Donny is a devout Catholic working in the retail industry. He requests Ash Wednesday off to attend special church services at a cathedral in a nearby city. His manager denies the request due to “thin staffing,” but the very next week, he approves several co-workers’ requests to skip shifts for secular reasons like a comic book convention, a pop concert, and a baseball game.

National Origin Discrimination

Sometimes tied up in matters of racial discrimination and other times occurring separately, discriminating against someone at work due to the country in which they were born is also forbidden by law.

Example: Michael is a highly qualified research scientist who immigrated from Africa to accept a job at a United States-based biotech firm. Even after several months of highly satisfactory work, he is given only low-profile busy work assignments while far less accomplished American scientists are assigned to cutting-edge projects.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Treating employees differently when they become pregnant, have a child, talk about starting a family, or are wrongly believed to be pregnant is a particularly insidious form of workplace discrimination because it can impact a new parent’s income when they need it the most. This includes cutting a pregnant employee’s hours, denying them promotion opportunities, or refusing to consider their job application.

Example: Lauren is a pregnant speech pathologist working with children. When she discloses to her employer that she, herself, is having a child, they choose a less experienced coworker for a promotion that she had previously been told she was the most likely candidate for.

Please note that the above is not by any means an exhaustive list of legally actionable workplace discrimination scenarios in the State of California. If you’re unsure whether your situation qualifies for a workplace discrimination claim, we encourage you to contact the employment law team at Theory Law for a highly qualified, detail-oriented analysis of your case.


Q: What Is Considered Workplace Discrimination in California?

A: Many actions can be considered workplace discrimination in California, from refusing to hire someone to denying promotions or failing to address complaints about a toxic work environment. The line between discriminatory action and routine workplace conflict can sometimes be a subtle one, calling for well-qualified legal representation to help aggrieved workers present their claims effectively.

Q: How Do I Prove Discrimination at Work in California?

A: You prove discrimination at work in California in essentially the same way you prove any other legal claim: by providing solid evidence and a compelling argument for your side of the situation. The employment law team at Theory Law is highly adept at both these phases of the process and can help you gather all the necessary evidence to present your claim in the most effective way possible.

Q: How Much Can You Sue for Discrimination in California?

A: You can sue for a substantial amount in a discrimination case in California. There is no hard cap on settlements for discrimination lawsuits in the state, so settlements and judgments can be quite significant. The total amount of a financial award in an employment discrimination case will depend on various factors, such as the extent of the discrimination, its actual financial impact, the financial circumstances of the employer, and the quality of your employment law attorney.

Theory Law – Effective Legal Help for California Employment Discrimination Cases

If you’re being discriminated against at your job–or while applying for jobs–you have legal recourse. Though it is never an employee’s fault when their employer engages in discriminatory practices, the employer may feel more entitled to continue these actions if they are not called out.

Theory Law is ready to help you hold discriminatory employers responsible for the damages they’ve caused to you, your emotional well-being, your career path, and your livelihood. Contact us today to get the process started.

How Can Theory Law Help You?

If you need help regarding a legal matter and would like to discuss it with an attorney, please call (310) 500-0206 or complete and submit the e-mail form below, and the attorney will contact you.

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