Despite the rhetoric of corporate lobbyists, California discrimination claims are anything but easy wins. The process is difficult, complex and expensive – and deep-pocketed defendants have both the advantage and incentive to drag these cases out, in the hopes plaintiffs will throw up their hands and walk away.
This is not to say they shouldn’t be pursued, but only under the direction of an experienced employment attorney who understands the risks, can realistically explain your odds, has a proven track record of success and in whom you feel you can place your trust.
It’s important to note that not all types of discrimination are unlawful. For instance, it is legal to discriminate on the basis of age in California – so long as the person impacted isn’t 40 or older. There are some states that protect younger workers from age-based discrimination, but California isn’t one of them. However, if, for example, both workers are over 40, age discrimination can still apply.
Most Common California Employment Discrimination Claims
The most common types of employment discrimination cases include:
- Age discrimination;
- Gender discrimination (including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination);
- Disability discrimination (including FMLA).
All of these are prohibited under both federal and California law. The Golden State is considered more plaintiff-friendly than most on these issues, but that doesn’t mean any worker will have an easy time of it. California case law on similar cases can be instructive.
Indirect Proof of Employer Intent
Central to so many of these employment discrimination cases, particularly where they involve retaliation or wrongful termination, is the intent of the employer. But direct evidence of discriminatory intent is often not available or tough to dispute. Because it’s the employee who bears the burden of proof, often indirect evidence of intent is introduced, as outlined in the 1988 California appellate case of Stephens v. Coldwell Banker Commercial Group Inc.
Workers must prove they belong to a protected class, were performing satisfactorily and were terminated/demoted/harassed under circumstances giving rise to unlawful discrimination. If that’s established, the proof burden shifts to the employer to show the catalyst for adverse employment action was a legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, and that the stated reason wasn’t merely a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Even if the employer can show the employee fell short, though, that doesn’t mean they’ll win their claim.
Employees will have a chance to refute this evidence, poking holes of doubt into the argument that poor performance was the motivation and establishing proof of intent, despite its subjective nature.
Evidence our Los Angeles employee discrimination lawyers have found useful in a fair number of cases:
- Employee’s long tenure of service (presumably, companies don’t keep poorly-performing workers on their payrolls any longer than they can help it);
- Documented of evidence of good performance (bonuses, awards, raises, positive reviews, promotions, etc.);
- Evidence that those in non-protected classes were treated differently, to the plaintiff’s disadvantage;
- Disparaging remarks made by senior management or co-workers regarding those within the protected class.
It’s also beneficial if a plaintiff is able to refute accusations of deficient work performance.