The law prohibits employers from making decisions regarding employees based upon protected classes. But what is a protected class?

Protected classes are certain categories of specific, personal characteristics. For example, gender is a protected class. That means, an employer may not make decisions regarding employees based upon the employee’s gender. An employer cannot fire, demote, or take another adverse job action against an employee because the employee is a woman or because the employee is a man. In fact, the employee’s gender may not be the reason the employer takes any adverse action at all.

The  laws recognizes the following protected classes:

  • race,
  • gender (or sex),
  • national origin,
  • religion,
  • disability,
  • age (over 40 only),
  • pregnancy,
  • citizenship,
  • familial status, and
  • veteran status.

Additionally, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) law expands the list of protected classes to include medical condition, sexual orientation, and gender identity. See, Gov. Code, §§ 12940, 12945, and 12945.2.

Some cities in California expand the list even further. For example, Santa Cruz and San Francisco both make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace against someone based on their weight. Santa Cruz also includes “physical characteristic” in its protected classes.