The federal law, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers disabilities in California, as well as other states. The ADA was enacted to combat discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

Specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act provides civil rights protections to persons who have disabilities. For example, the ADA guarantees disabled individuals the right to equal opportunity in:

  • Employment;
  • Public accommodations;
  • Transportation; and
  • Housing.

The other main law that covers disabilities in California is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The FEHA is a California statute that prohibits discrimination in employment and housing. The FEHA applies to public and private employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

Pursuant to the Fair Employment Housing Act, employers of 5 or more employees are prohibited from discriminating against job applicants and/or employees because of a protected category. Additionally, employers are prohibited from retaliating against a job applicant and/or an employee because they asserted their rights under the law.

Pursuant to the Federal Employment Housing Act, harassment is prohibited in all workplaces, including those with fewer than 5 employees. The statute also prohibits harassment based on a protected category against any of the following individuals:

  • An employee;
  • An applicant;
  • An unpaid intern;
  • A volunteer; and/or
  • A contractor.

Pursuant to California law, individuals are protected from illegal discrimination by employers based on one of the following categories:

  • Ancestry and/or national origin;
  • Race and/or color;
  • Religion and/or creed;
  • Age, if the individual is over the age of 40;
  • Mental and/or physical disability;
  • Sex and/or gender;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity and/or expression;
  • Medical condition and/or genetic information;
  • Marital status; and/or
  • Military and/or veteran status.

What is Employment Discrimination?

Employment discrimination occurs when a potential employee and/or current employee is treated less favorably than other similar employees solely based on certain characteristics that are protected by law. These characteristics include age, gender, and other categories discussed above.

Employment discrimination can also occur when a group of employees is treated more favorably than aother ground, based on the same characteristics that are protected by law. For example, this occurs when one group of employees receives benefits that are denied to other groups based on their gender. Another example would be to pay a higher salary to one group of employees over another based on their race, especially if they are performing the same tasks.

In many cases, discrimination occurs after an individual is already hired. However, it can occur when an individual is seeking employment. For example, if a job applicant is not hired because they are of a certain religion.

What Does “Employment” Mean Under California Discrimination Laws?

An important aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act is that it prohibits public and private employers from discriminating against an employee and/or job applicant with a disability. Title I of the ADA provides that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a disabled employee and/or job candidate throughout the entire employment process, including:

  • When a candidate is applying for a job;
  • During the applicant’s interview process;
  • If the application involves testing, such as grammar tests, and/or the job requires special training, such as using company software;
  • When an applicant is being considered for a job offer;
  • When an employer is assigning work projects or tasks;
  • During an employee’s evaluation and/or job performance review; and/or
  • When making decisions regarding terminations and/or promotions.

Additionally, the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual because they are related to and/or associate with another individual who has a disability.

How Do I File an Employment Discrimination Claim?

In most cases, an employee is required to file a complaint with a government agency prior to filing a lawsuit for employment discrimination. Usually, this is done by filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC conducts an investigation into the discrimination and will provide an appropriate remedy. In the event that the remedy provided by the EEOC is not sufficient and/or satisfactory, an individual can usually file a private lawsuit.

What Types of Accommodations Do California Disability Discrimination Laws Cover?

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act provides that any entity that is open to the public must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. In other words, if an establishment is covered by the ADA, it will be required to provide certain accommodations such as handrails, wheelchair ramps, and service animal exceptions to any “no pet” policies.

Public establishments that fall under Title III of the ADA may also be required to provide devices and/or resources that allow individuals who have vision, speech, and/or hearing disabilities to communicate effectively. For example, a library may be required to install certain computer software to accommodate blind individuals. It is important to note that these requirements apply even if the establishment was constructed prior to the ADA being passed.

Examples of public establishments that may be subject to ADA requirements include:

  • Restaurants;
  • Hotels;
  • Retail stores;
  • Sidewalks;
  • Public restrooms;
  • Schools;
  • Office buildings; and/or
  • Movie theaters.

On the other hand, establishments such as private clubs and/or organizations generally do not have to comply with ADA requirements. Therefore, they will not be required to offer public accommodations.

What are Some Other California Employment Disability Discrimination Issues?

California laws that prohibit discrimination apply to a number of business practices, including:

  • Advertisements;
  • Applications;
  • Screening;
  • Interviews;
  • Hiring;
  • Transferring employees;
  • Promoting employees;
  • Terminating employees;
  • Separating employees; and/or
  • Working conditions, including:
    • Compensation;
    • Participation in a training and/or apprenticeship program; and/or
    • Participation in an employee organization and/or union.

Under California state law, victims of employment discrimination are provided with a number of remedies, including:

  • Hiring and/or restatement;
  • Promotion;
  • Back pay, or past lost earnings;
  • Front pay, or future lost earnings;
  • Out-of-pocket expenses;
  • Training;
  • Reasonable accommodations;
  • Damages for emotional distress;
  • Policy changes;
  • Punitive damages; and/or
  • Attorney’s fees and costs.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act was recently amended and now includes many important new additions. Among those are written policy requirements stating that California employers with 5 or more employees have an affirmative duty to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct discrimination and/or harassment. It also provides that employers are required to created detailed written policies to prevent harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation. These policies are required to:

  • List any and all protected groups under the FEHA;
  • Instruct supervisors to report all complaints;
  • Permit employees to report to an individual other than their direct supervisor;
  • State that, to the extent possible, confidentiality will be maintained by the employer;
  • State that all complaints will be handled fairly, completely, and investigated in a timely manner;
  • State that remedial action will be taken if any misconduct is found;
  • State that retaliation will not be permitted against employees for complaining and/or participating in an investigation; and
  • State that the FEHA prohibits unlawful behavior by supervisors, co-workers, and/or third parties.

Do I Need to Hire a California Attorney for a Disability Discrimination Case at My Work?

Yes, it is extremely important to hire an experienced California attorney for your disability discrimination case. As noted above, the Americans with Disabilities Act provides disabled individuals protections against discriminatory practices. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act also provides protections to disabled individuals. Provisions of these laws may be updated frequently to ensure those with disabilities are protected.

A local civil rights attorney and/or an employment lawyer may be able to assist you with your disability discrimination case. These laws are complex and may overlap, so it is important to have help. A lawyer will be able to review your case, determine if discrimination has occurred and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.