What is a “Protected Class” in California?
| Read Time: 2 minutes | Employment Law 101

The concept of a “protected class” is the foundation of American discrimination law. The same misconduct may be legal or illegal based on whether or not it is motivated by its victim’s membership in a “protected class.” In the employment context, the concept of protected classes determines whether a termination is legal or illegal. It also determines whether mistreatment is bullying (which may be legal) or harassment (which is not).

This post is part of our Employment Law 101 series. Learn more here to understand your fundamental rights.  

What Are Protected Classes in California? 

Federal law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. Race discrimination and discrimination based on color have been illegal since 1866. In 1964, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which expanded the list of protected classes in employment to include national origin, sex, and religion. Just a few years later, Congress enacted the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and added age (over 40) to the list of protected classes. Disability discrimination became illegal with passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1973 and its later amendments. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act clarifying that pregnancy discrimination is discrimination based on sex.

California law protects workers from discrimination based on additional protected classes. In California, workers are protected from discrimination based on their:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability
  • Age (40 and older)
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • AIDS/HIV-positive status
  • Medical conditions
  • Political affiliations or activities
  • Status as a victim of domestic violence or stalking

In addition, your employer cannot take adverse employment actions against you because you complained of illegal conduct or make a good faith report to a government agency about illegal conduct at work.

Some municipalities have passed laws that prohibit discrimination based on additional protected classes. For instance, San Francisco local law prohibits discrimination based on height or weight.

What Employers Are Subject to the Anti-Discrimination Laws? 

California law prohibits discrimination based on any of the protected classes listed above by any employer with more than 5 employees. This means that employers cannot discriminate against you because of any of the categories listed above. If you are fired because you are over 40, for instance, or because you are disabled or pregnant, that is illegal discrimination. It is also illegal discrimination to refuse to hire you, refuse to promote you, cut your pay or hours, or take any actions that hurt your job status or income as a result of any protected class.

Talk to Top Employment Discrimination Attorneys

We are leading employment discrimination attorneys and exclusively represent employees against their employers. If you have experienced discrimination, contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 465-4802 to schedule a free consultation.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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