WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION PREVENTION « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, A History

Now with over 40 million residents and some 950,000 employers, California leads the nation in the size and diversity of its workforce.  Every employee in the state holds protections against discrimination, harassment and retaliation, primarily through the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Such workplace rights were long in coming and hard fought. At statehood (1850), California was rife with racial inequities.  The new state legislature stripped the native populations of land claims, prohibited African Americans from homesteading public land and barred Chinese children from public school.

Over the next 100 years, California’s minority population continued to boom despite repeated discriminatory backlash from the white holders of power.

From 1900 to 1930, roughly 10% of Mexico’s population migrated to California and other southwestern states.  During World War II, 500,000 African Americans migrated to California to work in the state’s booming wartime economy. Through the war, Mexican and African American laborers replaced white workers who had gone off to fight.  When the war ended, however, many of these laborers were dismissed. Those able to find employment were relegated to menial, low-paying positions. Job discrimination against minorities remained widespread.

In response, state lawmakers introduced the Fair Employment Practices Act (1946), proposing a ban on employment discrimination based on race, religion, color or national origin. However, it took 13 years, to 1959, to enact it.  That same year, California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act also became law, entitling “all persons to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments, including both private and public entities.”

Regardless, local governments retained the power to restrict minorities from living in California communities. The state legislature responded with the Rumford Fair Housing Act (1963). The California Real Estate Association countered with Proposition 14 to nullify the Rumford Act and restore landlord power to deny housing to anyone.  Although approved by 65% of the voters, the California Supreme Court ruled Prop 14 unconstitutional, restoring the Rumford Act.

In 1980, the Fair Employment Practices Act and Rumford Housing Act were combined and renamed the Fair Employment and Housing Act, banning employment and housing discrimination in California. The FEHA also established an enforcement agency, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), with the power to investigate, mediate and prosecute unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation complaints. The DFEH is now the largest civil rights agency in the country.

The DFEH also serves as an information and resource center for employers and employees alike. For instance, the agency has developed a library of required notices and circulars on many of FEHA’s critical aspects, for example:

Workplace Discrimination poster
California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and Pregnancy Leave poster
Sexual Harassment poster
Sexual Harassment factsheet
Transgender Rights poster
Your Rights and Obligations as a Pregnant Employee poster

The FEHA and its federal counterparts, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), stem from the premise that persons should be judged for their competence on the job and not by factors of race, religion and the many other characteristics deemed arbitrary and irrelevant to workplace qualification.

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For more information on such matters, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth orHelena Kobrin.

Tim Bowles
March 26, 2021