Examples of Workplace Discrimination in California [2024 Updated]

Frank S. Clowney III

In the state of California, employees are protected by law against discrimination in a professional capacity within the workplace. Workers are additionally protected from retaliatory action for speaking out against discrimination in their place of employment. Read on to learn more about discrimination and examples of workplace discrimination in California.

What Counts as Workplace Discrimination in California?

Workplace discrimination usually can take two main forms: direct discrimination and subsequent retaliatory action. Direct discrimination in the workplace entails an employee being treated unfairly, harassed, or punished because of a characteristic or status they possess that is protected under California law.

The traits that cannot be used to discriminate against someone include a person’s

  • Race or ethnicity,
  • Nationality/ancestry,
  • Religious beliefs or practices,
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity,
  • Age when they’re 40 years old or above,
  • Cognitive or physical disability,
  • Pregnancy or related health conditions and/or
  • Any genetic information or predispositions, including family medical history.

The unlawful discrimination may take the form of or involve actions such as hiring, promoting, firing, or demoting a person based on the listed inherent qualities. Subsequent retaliation can be against the employee who was discriminated against or a coworker who spoke up in opposition to the discrimination.

Any employee who suffers from a demotion, wrongful termination, revocation of work advancements or benefits, or any other punitive actions because of their complaint, informal or formal, of workplace discrimination (their own or a coworker’s) or otherwise supporting the discriminated party has experienced illegal retaliation within a work environment.

Examples of How an Instance of Workplace Discrimination May Look

The following are some examples of workplace discrimination based on a specific protected characteristic:

  • Race and ethnicity: A newly promoted employee is expecting to begin conducting more direct communication with the company’s clients, including phone calls and in-person meetings, with the goal of developing those interpersonal relationships.The employees are surprised when the boss decides to reassign that part of their new job description to another, less qualified coworker who will now reap the benefits. When the employee asks why, their employer responds that it was nothing major, just that they figured the worker’s strong accent would be off-putting or hard to understand for the clientele.
  • Nationality/place of origin: The new employee in the office happens to be of Asian ancestry. Nothing of note happens until a coworker asks if they’re from America. They seemed a bit self-conscious but responded yes, that they had lived here since childhood; the interaction ended amicably.Later, the boss asks the new worker whether they are technically an American citizen, and they confirm having earned their citizenship as immigrants. The employer proceeds to ask what country they’re from. When the worker answers, the boss seems taken aback and makes a remark about it being a “third world” country. After only a week, the new employee was let go.
  • Sex/gender: A female worker is interviewing for a new job position for which she is highly qualified. When discussing her career plans for the future, she mentions taking some time away from work in a few years in order to start a family. After some time, she finds out from her employer that she was turned down for the job because the hiring manager feels the employee cannot fully commit to the job since she wants to have a family.
  • Age: A middle-aged employee isn’t prepared to retire and still relies on the benefits they get from their job. When the company has budget cuts and needs to lay off some workers, only the middle-aged employee and the only other coworker that’s older than them are fired, despite being more experienced and valuable than some of the younger employees.


Q: What Is a Specific Example of Discrimination in the Workplace?

A: An example of specific discrimination in the workplace is this one regarding disability-based discrimination: An individual with cerebral palsy is interviewing for a job. His motor disability was not mentioned in the correspondence prior to the interview.

Upon arrival, the employer is visibly surprised and proceeds to ask the candidate several questions unprompted about his medical conditions. After minimal discussion about his qualifications, the interviewer states that the candidate doesn’t seem like a good fit for the position.

Q: What Are the Two Ways to Prove Discrimination?

A: Two ways to prove discrimination in California are through direct evidence and/or circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence includes statements from an employer or other individuals that establish discriminatory bias or intent, among other proof that directly shows the existence of discrimination.

Evidence that’s circumstantial allows the court to infer the occurrence of discrimination, such as a pattern or history of the employer’s discriminatory conduct or evidence that they have treated other workers similarly based on the same or another protected characteristic.

Q: How Do You Know if You Are Being Discriminated Against at Work?

A: If you’re unsure whether you’re being discriminated against, you can begin by reviewing your rights and protected characteristics under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, such as your race, gender, age, etc.

Proceed to ask yourself if you were treated unfairly or differently compared to your coworkers because of a protected characteristic specifically. Also, reflect on whether your employer’s actions were motivated by prejudice or bias against your inherent characteristic instead of another potential, legitimate reason.

Q: What to Do if Your Job Has Discriminated Against You?

A: If you think your workplace has acted discriminatorily, be sure to document any evidence of the discrimination, such as what you’ve experienced and any witnesses. You may choose to report the misconduct to your employer (if they are not the offender), but you can also file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department.

It’s wise to consider enlisting the help of an experienced employment discrimination lawyer since they can guide you through the potentially complicated process.

A Workplace Discrimination Attorney Will Protect Your Rights

The Law Office of Frank S. Clowney III has extensive experience managing cases of discrimination within the workplace. Our team works diligently to ensure discrimination victims are compensated for their mistreatment, as well as prevent further misconduct. Reach out to one of our legal professionals today.