Racial Discrimination in California Employment Law: Protect Your Rights

Racial discrimination in the workplace is a serious issue that affects countless employees across various industries. In California, employment laws are designed to provide robust protections against such discrimination, ensuring that all individuals have equal opportunities and are treated fairly in their professional environments. This blog post will delve into the key aspects of California’s employment laws on racial discrimination, including legal definitions, prohibited practices, employee rights, and the processes for addressing and remedying discrimination.

Legal Framework

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

The cornerstone of California’s employment discrimination law is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Enacted in 1959, FEHA prohibits employers, labor organizations, and employment agencies from engaging in discriminatory practices based on race, color, ancestry, and national origin, among other protected characteristics. This legislation applies to employers with five or more employees, including state and local governments.

Federal Laws

In addition to FEHA, federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also play a critical role in combating racial discrimination in the workplace. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, and applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Prohibited Practices

Under California law, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their race. This includes:

  • Hiring and Firing: Employers cannot make hiring or firing decisions based on an individual’s race.
  • Compensation and Benefits: Employers must provide equal pay and benefits for employees performing substantially similar work, regardless of race.
  • Promotion and Training: Opportunities for advancement and professional development must be equally available to all employees.
  • Work Environment: Employers must maintain a workplace free from racial harassment and hostility.
  • Job Assignments: Employees should not be assigned to certain tasks or positions based on racial stereotypes.


Racial harassment is also a form of discrimination prohibited under FEHA. Harassment includes any unwelcome conduct based on race that creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment. Examples include racial slurs, jokes, derogatory comments, or any other behavior that targets an individual because of their race. Employers are obligated to take all reasonable steps to prevent and address harassment in the workplace.

Employee Rights and Employer Responsibilities

Employee Rights

Employees in California have the right to:

  • A Discrimination-Free Workplace: All employees are entitled to work in an environment free from racial discrimination and harassment.
  • Reasonable Accommodation: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, which includes addressing needs related to racial and cultural backgrounds.
  • Protection from Retaliation: Employees who report discrimination or participate in investigations are protected from retaliation by their employers.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers are required to:

  • Implement Anti-Discrimination Policies: Establish clear policies that prohibit racial discrimination and outline procedures for reporting and addressing complaints.
  • Provide Training: Regular training for employees and management on preventing and responding to discrimination and harassment.
  • Investigate Complaints: Promptly and thoroughly investigate any complaints of racial discrimination or harassment.
  • Take Corrective Action: Implement appropriate corrective measures when discrimination or harassment is found to have occurred.

Addressing Racial Discrimination

Filing a Complaint

Employees who believe they have been subjected to racial discrimination can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The process typically involves:

  1. Intake Form: Completing an intake form detailing the alleged discrimination.
  2. Investigation: The DFEH investigates the complaint to determine if there is sufficient evidence to support the claims.
  3. Mediation: The DFEH may offer mediation services to help the parties reach a settlement.
  4. Legal Action: If mediation fails and sufficient evidence is found, the DFEH may file a lawsuit on behalf of the complainant or issue a right-to-sue notice, allowing the individual to pursue the matter in court.

Legal Remedies

Victims of racial discrimination may be entitled to various remedies, including:

  • Compensatory Damages: For emotional distress, lost wages, and other financial losses.
  • Punitive Damages: To punish the employer for particularly egregious conduct.
  • Injunctive Relief: Court orders requiring the employer to take specific actions to prevent future discrimination.
  • Attorney’s Fees and Costs: Reimbursement for legal expenses incurred in pursuing the case.


California’s employment laws provide comprehensive protections against racial discrimination, reflecting the state’s commitment to fostering equitable and inclusive workplaces. Understanding these laws empowers employees to recognize and assert their rights, while guiding employers in creating respectful and lawful work environments. By adhering to these principles, we can work towards a future where all individuals are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, irrespective of their race.