San Francisco Discrimination Lawyers
Both California and federal law prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, and disability. California laws, such as the Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA), go a step further and also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or medical condition (i.e., cancer or genetic characteristics). Local laws in California may provide even further protection; for example, San Francisco has a law which prohibits discrimination of an employee because of his or her height or weight.
At Rukin Hyland, our attorneys represent employees who have suffered unlawful discrimination at work, including for the following types of claims:
- Sex and Gender Discrimination
- Sexual Orientation Discrimination
- Pregnancy Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Religious Discrimination
- Race and National Origin Discrimination
- Age Discrimination
CALIFORNIA DISCRIMINATION CHARGE STATISTICS (2009-2016)
Starting a Discrimination Case
To prevail in a discrimination case, the employee must show that the employer took an “adverse employment action” against the employee which was motivated by discrimination. Examples of this include:
- Firing, wrongful termination, or constructive discharge
- Demotion, transfer, or unfavorable job assignment
- Reduction in pay
- Failure to interview or hire
- Denying promotion or advancement
- Any other employment decision that materially affects the terms and conditions of employment
Pursuing a Discrimination Claim
An employee must do more than show that an employer’s decision is unfair or wrong — employees must have evidence that the action was motivated by discriminatory bias. For example, when an employer’s stated reason for firing an employee is workplace misconduct, an employee may prove discrimination in part by showing that the employer did not fire other employees who engaged in the same misconduct.
Under both California and federal law, an employee who believes that he or she experienced discrimination first must file with the state or federal administrative agency before filing a lawsuit in court, pursuant to the FEHA’s statutory requirements. In California, employees have one year from discriminatory act to file with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Alternatively, an employee may file a claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the discriminatory act if the charge also is covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law. Employees may wish to speak with an attorney to determine whether or not their employer has engaged in possible employment discrimination and what legal options they may have.
Can A Supervisor’s Comments Provide Evidence of Discriminatory Intent?
It is sometimes challenging to prove discriminatory intent. Evidence is required, obviously, but what kind? Courts have often talked about two kinds of evidence: direct and indirect.
- Direct evidence “typically consists of clearly sexist, racist, or similarly discriminatory statements or actions by the employer,” which proves an employer’s bias without any further inferences. Dominguez-Curry v. Nevada Transp. Dep’t, 424 F.3d 1027, 1038 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Coghlan v. Am. Seafoods Co., 413 F.3d 1090, 1095 (9th Cir. 2005)).
- Indirect or “circumstantial” evidence usually involves showing that the employer’s articulated reason for the adverse employment decision is not credible. Id. at 1043. For example, in a race discrimination claim brought by an Asian worker supposedly fired for failing to submit an expense report, evidence that similarly situated non-Asian employees were not fired for the same supposed offense may constitute some indirect evidence of discriminatory bias.
Of course, a supervisor’s discriminatory comments may provide strong direct evidence of discrimination. When a supervisor exhibits discriminatory bias, it may be reasonable to conclude that the employment decision was motivated by unlawful bias. Id. at 1039-40 (citing Mondero v. Salt River Project, 400 F.3d 1207, 1213 (9th Cir. 2005). In fact, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that even “a single discriminatory comment by a plaintiff’s supervisor or decisionmaker is sufficient to preclude summary judgment for the employer.” Id. at 1039.
Three Examples of Discriminatory Intent
Three cases highlight the impact that a supervisor’s comments may have on a claim of employment discrimination. In Dominguez-Curry v. Nevada Transp. Dep’t, the plaintiff alleged that her employer failed to promote her to the Program Officer III position on the basis of her gender. Id. In support of her claim the plaintiff presented evidence that her supervisor had stated that he was “going to hire a man” for that position. Id. The Ninth Circuit held that this comment by a plaintiff’s supervisor was neither isolated nor ambiguous, and was alone sufficient to justify a finding that the hiring decision was motivated at least in part by gender. Id. at 1041.
In Chuang v. Univ. of Cal. Davis, Bd. of Trustees, an assistant professor of pharmacology and assistant research pharmacologist, both of Chinese origin, brought an action against UC Davis alleging discrimination based on race and national origin. 225 F.3d 1115 (9th Cir. 2000). There, a member of the Executive Committee, a decisionmaking body for the School Medicine, stated that “‘two Chinks in the pharmacology department were ‘more than enough’” and in response, the Dean of the School of Medicine laughed. Id. at 1128. Even though this remark occurred during the consideration of a different Asian-American’s potential employment, the Ninth Circuit held that this statement was “‘an egregious and bigoted insult … that constitutes strong evidence of discriminatory animus on the basis of national origin.’” Id. The Dean’s laughing response also established discriminatory intent on his part. Id. Thus, both the comments and actions of decisionmakers may constitute direct evidence of discrimination.
Finally, in Cordova v. State Farm Ins. Cos., the plaintiff alleged she was denied a position as a State Farm trainee agent on account of her national origin. 124 F.3d 1145 (9th Cir. 1997). The plaintiff provided evidence that the Agency Manager who was responsible for selecting the trainee agent referred to another Hispanic agent as a “dumb Mexican” at some point after the promotion decision. Id. at 1147. The Ninth Circuit held that this comment “could be proof of discrimination against [plaintiff]” despite the fact the supervisor made the comment about another employee and it occurred after the hiring decision. Id. at 1149.
Contact Us Today
Keep in mind that there are strict deadlines on pursuing discrimination claims. In California, employees have one year from the discriminatory act to file a charge with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), a necessary prerequisite to filing a lawsuit. Contact our office today to discuss the specifics of your discrimination case and let us fight for your rights as an employee.