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San Francisco Discrimination Law Attorney

Businesses are required by law to take affirmative steps to create an environment in which unlawful discrimination and harassment is not tolerated. Mike Tonsing helps businesses develop practices that promote positive employer/employee relationships and discourage both discrimination and resulting claims. He is a great believer in preventive law training in the workplace as a means of promoting positive outcomes.

During his 35-plus years of legal experience, when training has not occurred or has not worked. Mike has represented plaintiffs and defendants in California discrimination lawsuits.

To avoid discrimination claims, businesses must understand the many ways that a myriad of local, State, and federal discrimination laws interact and affect such matters as hiring and firing practices, disciplinary policies, workplace training, promotions, and terminations.

All but the smallest of companies should publish anti-discrimination policies in an employee handbook and invest in ongoing diversity training and awareness. Mike works with employers to draft employee handbooks that are practical, thorough, and intelligible.

When pursuing a discrimination claim, employees have the right, if not the duty to contact the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), administered by the DFEH, is a broadly written law that prohibits discrimination and harassment based on certain protected classifications, including:

  • race,
  • color,
  • national origin,
  • ancestry,
  • religion,
  • mental or physical disability,
  • medical conditions related to cancer,
  • sex (gender),
  • pregnancy,
  • sexual orientation,
  • marital status, and
  • age (if 40 years of age or older).

Almost any employment practice concerning employees might violate the FEHA if it’s based, even in part, on an individual’s protected classification. The FEHA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including:

  • recruiting
  • advertising
  • applications
  • tests
  • hiring and firing
  • promotions
  • assignments
  • transfers
  • job descriptions
  • seniority
  • discipline
  • training
  • compensation, and
  • company activities.

In addition, California’s FEHA prohibits discrimination and/or retaliation against individuals who claim a right, oppose a violation, make complaints, or participate in investigations or enforcement actions under the FEHA.

Filing an Administrative Complaint with the DFEH

If California employers discriminate against individuals protected by State anti-discrimination laws, those individuals may file a administrative complaint with the DFEH. The DFEH may then investigate the alleged discrimination: and, employers in violation of the law may be ordered to:

  • change an illegal personnel policy;
  • hire applicants, promote or reinstate employees;
  • restore lost pay, benefits, and seniority; and
  • pay up to $50,000 in actual damages, administrative costs, and other fines.

Once they have exhausted their administrative remedies before the DFEH, individuals been may sue employers in court for violating the FEHA. In addition to the administrative remedies listed above, a court may order employers to pay attorney’s fees, court costs, and punitive damages.

Although they may have only the best of intentions, in their own view, employers probably violate the FEHA anytime they treat individual employees or job prospects differently based on their membership in a protected classification. This is true even if those employers are trying altruistically to “protect” individuals from challenging work environments or trying to satisfy the preferences of their other employees or customers. As a somewhat confusing (to some) example, if an employer’s workforce is split equally between two races and current employees from each racial group request separate, racially exclusive dressing rooms, a violation of law has occurred. If the dressing rooms are segregated, the FEHA has been violated. Employee requests have been held by courts not to be a legitimate reason to discriminate. It was long the case that the predominantly male business travelers of the generation ago who were polled regarding their gender preferences for flight attendants indicated that they would prefer females. It didn’t take long for our courts to decide that the preferences of airline passengers could not be used as a justification for gender discrimination in employment.

In addition to State and Federal law, some local governments of also enacted anti-discrimination statutes. For example, neither California law nor Federal law explicitly outlaws “physical appearance” discrimination; yet, certain local laws address employer conduct in this area. A Santa Cruz city ordinance bans discrimination based on an employee or applicant’s height, weight, or “physical characteristics.” The City of San Francisco similarly prohibits discrimination on the basis of height and weight.

Given the complexity of the discrimination laws affecting employers in this State, and the risks that can accompany violations, it is prudent for employers to seek professional advice early when questions arise as to such matters. As an experienced California anti-discrimination attorney, Mike Tonsing works to protect the rights of both businesses and individuals in areas related to Federal, State, and local discrimination laws.

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