Is Gender Discrimination Illegal in California?

Posted by Sessions & Kimball |

In California, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an individual on the basis of sex or gender. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects individuals, mandating that an employer cannot discriminate against anyone based on sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.

What Does Gender Discrimination Look Like?

Gender discrimination encompasses a variety of inequitable actions on the part of the employer. Discrimination can include actions such as refusing to hire a potential employee, firing an employee, demoting an employee, denying an employee a promotion, benefits, or an equal wage, refusing to select an individual for a training program and discriminating against anyone during their conditions of employment. Additionally, an employer is not permitted to refuse an employee or potential employee pregnancy disability leave if applicable.

Although there are many actions that count as gender discrimination, it can be difficult to prove in court. Most employers know that gender discrimination is against the law, so they may discriminate in more subtle ways. Some subtle ways an employer may discriminate include excluding people of one gender from certain meetings, only promoting individuals from one gender, requiring certain genders to take on different job responsibilities, and ignoring or not taking reports of discrimination seriously.

Some more serious forms of gender discrimination may include a hostile work environment, inappropriate sexual comments or harassment, sharing offensive or inappropriate content and/or photos with employees, forcing pregnant employees to resign, retaliating against an employee for reporting discrimination, and firing an employee who changes their gender identity.

How To File a Complaint

If you feel that you have been discriminated against on the basis of gender, you may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at the federal level or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) at the state level. Typically, if you want to sue your employer, you must first file a complaint with the DFEH.

A pre-complaint inquiry must be filed within 3 years of the last incident of discrimination. A DFEH representative will contact the complainant within 60 days, and if they decide the complaint is rejected, the individual may sue their employer.

If the complaint is accepted, the DFEH will file a complaint with the individual’s employer, and the employer must respond. The DFEH will offer negotiations first and if the complaint cannot be resolved this way, the DFEH will conduct an investigation. If the investigation finds no violation, then the employee may sue their employer. Otherwise, the case goes to DFEH’s Legal Division to mediate a resolution.

Proving Gender Discrimination

While proving gender discrimination can be difficult, it’s important to know what you need to show to try to succeed in court. Direct evidence of gender discrimination is always ideal – such as emails stating that you were fired because of your gender – but it’s almost never this easy. Employers generally know better than to be so direct. Without direct evidence, victims of gender discrimination must prove their claim based on the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. The framework has the following 3 steps:

  1. You as the plaintiff have the burden of establishing that discrimination exists. To do this, you must show that a prima facie case of discrimination exists. This includes providing evidence that you are a member of a protected class, you suffered an adverse employment action, you were performing your job duties at a level that met the employer’s legitimate and reasonable expectations at the time the adverse action was taken, and the position was filled by someone else similarly qualified.
  2. If you meet your burden, your employer then must provide a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action that was taken against you
  3. Finally, the burden shifts back to you as the plaintiff. During this step, you will have to show that the legitimate reason for the adverse employment action is actually just a pretext, and the real reason the action was taken was due to discrimination.

An Orange County gender discrimination attorney can help navigate the complicated process of a gender discrimination lawsuit, so don’t hesitate to reach out to one as soon as possible. An experienced employment attorney will ensure that your claim gets heard and that you receive all appropriate relief that is owed to you.