ABOLISHING WORKPLACE BIGOTRY: A WORK IN PROGRESS « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and its federal counterpart, the  Civil Rights Act of 1964, are designed to protect employees from unlawful discrimination.

The FEHA also established the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) to investigate, mediate and prosecute workplace discrimination complaints. It is the largest state civil rights agency in the nation.

California was not always known for its vigorous anti-discrimination efforts. In 1850, the new state legislature rescinded Native Americans’ claims on land and other rights of citizenship and banned African Americans from homesteading public land, sending their children to public schools and using public transportation. In the 1920s and 1930s, California condoned the restricted sale or occupation of real property on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion and social class.

Anti-discrimination bills failed to pass California State Legislature in the mid-1940s and early 1950s. The FEHA and its companion Unruh Civil Rights Act (named for its author, Jesse Unruh) became law in 1959, together barring discrimination in the workplace, housing and business establishments on the basis of race, religion, national origin and ancestry in the workplace and declaring all Californians “free and equal.” These laws now protect some 14 classifications against discrimination, including race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, age (over 40), disability (mental and physical), sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions), sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, and military and veteran status.

A 1992 amendment to the FEHA permitted actual damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees to be awarded to successful plaintiffs in discrimination law suits.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) became law in 1993, granting “secure leave” rights to employees in companies with 50 or more on payroll for the birth of a child, during placement of a child in the employee’s home for adoption or foster care, for the serious health condition of the employee’s child, parent or spouse, and for the employee’s own serious health condition.

The New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) (2018) expanded the reach of CFRA by requiring businesses with 20 or more on payroll employees to provide eligible employees job-protected leave for the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care.

The DFEH is responsible for enforcement of all these state laws.

Each year seems to bring new developments in this critical area.  Accordingly, California businesses with five or more employees are now required to train managers (minimum two hours) and all other workers (minimum one hour) on discrimination, harassment and retaliation prevention and handling, beginning in 2020 and every two years afterwards. New hires must be trained within six months of employment. See, Prevent No Consent Torment (January, 2020)

For further assistance in the scope and application of these laws, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin. For more information, costs or to schedule an on-site training contact our office manager Aimee Rosales at (626) 583-6600 or officemgr@tbowleslaw.com.

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Tim Bowles

March 5, 2020