What Does the Law Say?


Where is the law regarding sex discrimination in employment in California found?

The law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment is found in California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA").


To whom does the FEHA apply?

The FEHA applies to employees who work for an employer in California.


What is an "employee" under this law?

An employee is any individual working for an employer. An employee does not include individuals employed by a parent, spouse, or child, "or any individual employed under a special license in a nonprofit sheltered workshop or rehabilitation facility."


What is an "employer" under this law?

An employer is any person or entity with five or more employees. An employer includes its agents and the state or local government but does not include associations or corporations that are religious non-profits. In addition to employers, the FEHA prohibits labor organizations, apprenticeship training programs, employment agencies, and licensing boards from discriminating against women.


Under the FEHA, what is illegal?

The FEHA prohibits employment discrimination based on the "race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation of any person."


What is sex or gender discrimination?

In California, sex discrimination is differential treatment based not only on whether a person is male or female, but also on a person’s gender identity. Gender identity is the sex a person identifies with and can be different from the anatomical sex assigned at birth. Sex discrimination also includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.


What constitutes sex or gender discrimination under the FEHA?

Sex discrimination includes refusing to hire, barring from training programs leading to employment, providing different terms or conditions of employment, or firing an employee based on sex. Sexual harassment is also a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the FEHA. An employer must also allow a woman to take pregnancy leave and to wear pants. If you feel you have been treated negatively in your employment because you are a woman, you may have a claim.


Are women a "protected class"?

Yes. Women are a protected class.


Is there a federal law about sex discrimination?

Yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination under federal law.


How does the state law compare with federal in terms of coverage?

California’s anti-discrimination law closely mirrors federal law. However, a number of subtle differences make claims brought under the FEHA more favorable. The FEHA covers employers with five or more employees, as opposed to requiring fifteen or more as Title VII does, and the time limit for filing a complaint under the FEHA is 365 days as opposed to 300 days. Furthermore, there are no limits on compensatory and punitive damages recoverable under the FEHA like there are under Title VII.


Is it ever okay for my employer to treat or impact women differently because of their sex?

An employer can treat or impact women differently if such discrimination is based on a bona fide occupational qualification or on state or federal security regulations. The exceptions extend to bona fide retirement, pension, and insurance plans, and other employee benefits.


In a nutshell, what must I prove to win my case?

Depending on the type of discrimination you faced, you will have to prove slightly different things, but generally speaking, you have to show that your employer took adverse action against you because you are a woman. Please refer to the various sections addressing each claim for more detail.


What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to their denials?

In general, your employer could deny your allegations and escape liability if your employer can prove that it acted against you for legitimate reasons and not because you are a woman. You can respond by showing that your employer’s legitimate reasons are just excuses and that the real reason your employer acted against you was because you are a woman.


Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?

Yes. The FEHA requires that you file a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within 365 days of when the discrimination occurred. This time limit, called a statute of limitations, prevents you from taking action against your employer if the complaint is not filed within the 365 day period.


What options do I have if my employer has fewer than five employees?

Under the FEHA, if your employer has fewer than five employees, most discrimination claims cannot be filed against your employer. A few notable exceptions exist. You can file a claim for sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination in training programs leading to employment. You can also file a claim against individuals for aiding, abetting, inciting, compelling, or coercing the doing of any discriminatory acts. You can also file an unequal pay claim under California Labor Code § 1197.5. If you do not have any legal claims, alternative solutions are available here.


Who enforces the law?

The FEHA is enforced by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC). Federal laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


How do I file a claim of sex discrimination with the DFEH?

You can file a claim by contacting the DFEH and scheduling a consultation meeting.


If I prove my sex discrimination claim, what kind of remedies am I entitled to?

If you bring a successful sex discrimination claim under the FEHA, you are entitled to any remedies that will fulfill the purposes of the FEHA including compensatory and punitive damages.


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