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Proposed California Bill Would Erect a New Protected Class Within the the Fair Employment and Housing Act

The law is frequently slow to change but, as society evolves, the law often follows along eventually. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)’s protections against workplace discrimination are no exception. For example, sexual orientation became a protected class in 2000 and an amendment added gender identity/expression as a protected class in 2004. As the law is ever-changing, it is vitally important to make sure that, if you’ve suffered harm from discrimination on the job, you’re working with an experienced Oakland employment discrimination attorney who has an in-depth and up-to-date knowledge of all the relevant federal and California discrimination laws.

A Riverside County Republican senator has proposed a bill that, if it becomes law, would add yet another class that is protected against discrimination under the FEHA, according to East County Today. That class would be political affiliation. The “Diversity of Thought Act,” introduced by state Sen. Melissa Melendez, would insert “political affiliation” into the FEHA in three places. Those are Section 12920, Section 12940, and Section 12955 of the California Government Code.

The bill represents, according to the senator, an important protection against a rising societal problem, which is the so-called “cancel culture,” in which people may suffer a variety of harms, including employment discrimination, because of their political views, beliefs, and affiliations, according to the report.

The senator, in support of her bill, stated that “Cancel culture and the efforts to silence differing opinions and voices should be a growing concern for all of us. A climate of intolerance has been established and has stifled healthy and normal debate…This cannot and should not be allowed to continue.”

Places like New York and the District of Columbia already have laws on the books prohibiting this kind of discrimination.

Even if the senator’s bill does not become California law, workers in this state who believe they’ve been targeted for adverse employment action (like termination, demotion, reduction in hours, pay or benefits, or being passed over for promotion) because of their political activities or beliefs may still have recourse under state law.

Another possible avenue for recovery outside the FEHA

Section 1101 and Section 1102 of the state’s Labor Code expressly prohibit employers from making any rules or policies that “control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees.” Those statutes also say that your employer cannot attempt to control or influence your political activities through the threat of your firing.

If you have suffered that kind of harm, then you can sue and you can potentially collect a substantial amount of compensation. A successful case may permit you to recover damages compensating you for lost wages, lost benefits, and pain and suffering.

On top of those damages, there may be the potential for more. If the evidence you’ve amassed showed that your employer acted maliciously or engaged in fraud or oppression, then that proof may entitle you to seek and obtain an award for punitive damages, which is a sum you receive as punishment against the employer that (hopefully) will discourage it and others like it from engaging in similar wrongful conduct in the future.

Whether or not this bill becomes law, the FEHA will undergo changes eventually and with those amendments will come changes in who can pursue compensation in a discrimination lawsuit. When that “who” is you, there are several things that are critical to the success of your case. One is making sure that you have the right legal representation in your corner. You can count on the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch to be that kind of effective advocate for you. Attorney Fuerch is a knowledgeable Oakland workplace discrimination attorney who has many years of experience helping harmed workers just like you. Contact this office through our website or call (925) 463-2475 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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