What’s a Protected Class and am I Part of One?

If you are being treated unfairly at work, you may have wondered whether you have any legal recourse. The answer to that question depends on a number of factors – including whether you are a member of a protected class.

Am I part of a protected class of workers?

What exactly is a protected class? Put simply, protected classes are groups of people that are protected from employment discrimination under federal and state law. If your employer discriminates against you or harasses you because of your membership in a protected class, then you may be able to file a lawsuit against them.

A Beverly Hills employment lawyer will work with you to help you understand your rights under California and federal law. If you choose to file a lawsuit, they will fight for your right for full compensation for losses. Reach out today for a free initial consultation.

What Is a Protected Class?

In California, employees are protected from employment discrimination by two main laws. First, Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination and harassment against members of a protected class. It is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Second, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employment-related discrimination and harassment against members of a protected class. This is enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), and provides broader protections than Title VII.

Both of these laws forbid workplace discrimination and harassment against individuals who belong to a protected class. In its simplest terms, a protected class is a group of people who share a common characteristic. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against members of this group on the basis of this characteristic.

The following are protected classes that are covered under either Title VII or FEHA laws, or both:

  • Race (both)
  • Color (both)
  • Ancestry or national origin (both)
  • Religion or creed (both)
  • Age (40 or older) (both)
  • Disability (mental and physical) (both)
  • Sex/gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding) (both)
  • Sexual orientation (both; Title VII includes sexual orientation as sex)
  • Gender identity or gender expression (both; Title VII includes gender identity as sex)
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information (both)
  • Marital status
  • Military or veteran status
 

Note, California law is more expansive than federal law. In this case, a Beverly Hills employment lawyer may advise you that the best course of action is to file a state claim against your employer.

Am I Part of a Protected Class?

Many people are members of a protected class. Depending on your situation, you might belong to one or more groups that are protected from discrimination under federal and state law.

A person may be a member of one protected class, or multiple protected classes. 

For Example:

Brenda, a 30-year-old gay, Asian woman, works as an office manager for a social media company. When submitting an application for a promotion, her employer demotes her when he finds out she is gay and has made comments based on her Asian heritage. In this situation, she may be able to file an employment discrimination lawsuit against her company due to their refusal to promote her based on her membership of not only one, but two protected classes (i.e. sexual orientation and race). 

However, being a member of a protected class does not mean that you have a right to sue your employer. Instead, it means that if your employer discriminates against you or harasses you because of your membership in a protected group, you could file a workplace discrimination suit against them. 

In addition, keep in mind that California is an at-will employment state, which means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all, as long as that reason is not illegal. If your boss decides to fire you for a reason that isn’t linked to membership in a protected class – such as chronic lateness – then it probably is not a form of illegal discrimination, even if you belong to a protected class. 

If you have any question about whether an adverse employment action may have been based on your membership in a protected class, reach out to a Los Angeles employment attorney to schedule a free consultation. You can fill out our form below or call us at (949) 833-7105.

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