What to Know

Marital Status Discrimination - California Laws

Marital Status Discrimination. Los Angeles, California.

California employment law protects workers from discrimination based on their marital status. The Sempers Law Firm, in Los Angeles, California, helps protect California employees' rights to be free from marital status discrimination in the workplace.

Call us at 888-762-0297 to schedule your free consultations.

Does California prohibit marital status discrimination?

Although there is no federal statute prohibiting discrimination based on marital status, California law does provide this protection. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits employers from discriminating against any employee - or even a potential employee - based on that person's marital status.

Examples of marital status discrimination

Like other forms of discrimination, marital status discrimination occurs whenever the "terms and conditions" of employment change based on a person's marital status. Common examples include:

Hiring and firing decisions

Promotions and opportunities for advancement

Pay discrimination

Scheduling and duty assignments

Unfair disciplinary action

When spouses work in the same department or work for each other, who regulates marital status discrimination?

When spouses work in the same department, the company still has a legal obligation to prevent discrimination based on their marriage. For example: suppose the company wants to reassign one spouse to ensure productivity within the department. So long as the transfer comes with equal pay, benefits, opportunities for advancement, and other conditions of employment, this is allowed. But if the company tried to demote one spouse, this would be unlawful discrimination based on the marriage. The company's HR department still has a legal obligation to regulate marital status discrimination in that department.

It might sound strange, but it is still possible to face marital status discrimination even when you work for your spouse. Imagine a small family business that two spouses own. If they divorce, it is likely that they will not want to work together any longer. But if they do, neither spouse can fire the other solely on the basis of divorce. This would be unlawful employment discrimination based on marital status. If the company's HR or legal departments does not stop it, the discrimination can be regulated by bringing a lawsuit against the family business.

How do you prove marital status discrimination?

It is not always easy to prove marital status discrimination. After all, employers are unlikely to admit in court that they were offended by your spouse or did not approve of your status as a divorcee or unmarried bachelor. But it is possible to prove that marital status discrimination occurred. For example: imagine that you are suddenly fired after your employer met your same-sex spouse. If there is no history of the discipline in your employee file, this would support a conclusion that there was no lawful basis for your firing, and it was instead a pretext for the employer's marital discrimination. Evidence of comments, gestures, reactions, and other signs of disapproval can also support a finding of marital status discrimination.

Can an employee be fired because of an extramarital affair?

It might seem like an extramarital affair is unrelated to an employee's marital status. But it can be possible to face employment discrimination for engaging in an extramarital affair. For example: imagine that an employee has separated from his or her spouse before engaging in an affair with a coworker. If the employer tried to fire the separated employee, this could be a form of marital status discrimination. After all, the employee likely would not have been fired had she been legally divorced at the time of the affair. These situations can be complicated. Be sure to consult an employment attorney about your legal rights if you believe you have been discriminated against for having an extramarital affair.

What if an employee's spouse is working for a competitor?

Many California businesses have trade secrets that they want to protect. To this end, an employer might not be happy with the fact that your spouse works for a competitor. This, alone, is not sufficient reason to fire you. It would be illegal to terminate you simply because you were married. On the other hand, if the spouses shared company secrets with one another, this might be a legal reason for firing the employee that is unrelated to the marriage. It is important to determine whether your employer has a separate reason for taking action against you or whether you are being unlawfully discriminated against solely based on your marriage.

What if an employer doesn't like the identity of the spouse?

Unfortunately, there are still some people who are simply biased. They may not like the fact that your spouse is of a particular race, or the same gender as you, or speaks another language. It is illegal for an employer to take any adverse employment action against you because they do not like the identity of your spouse. An employer might find a pretext for firing you instead of admitting that they are biased against your spouse. Carefully note any comments, reactions, or other information that indicates your employer does not approve of your spouse. For more information call us at 888-762-0297.

Marital status discrimination and pre-employment inquiries

Prospective employers are allowed to ask applicants about their marital status. What is not allowed is making an adverse employment decision based on this knowledge. This is why it can be risky for employers to ask applicants about their marital status.

What should I do if I believe I've been the victim of marital status discrimination?

It is always important to seek advice from an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer any time you suspect you have been the victim of marital status discrimination. The sooner an attorney is involved in your case, the better protected your legal rights will be. An attorney can also take action to preserve critical evidence in your case (such as your employee file).

How long does it take to settle a marital status discrimination lawsuit?

A marital status discrimination claim can, unfortunately, take years to be resolved. Many employers are reluctant to admit that they have done something as offensive as discriminating against an employee because they aren't married or because the employer is simply offended by the employee's spouse. If your case must go to trial before a jury, it could take years to obtain a resolution. Of course, some employers prefer to quietly settle a claim out of court. In this event, your case could be resolved far more quickly.

What is the maximum compensation for marital status discrimination in California?

Victims in California have access to more damages than victims in other states. They can recover actual damages for documented losses like lost wages and job placement assistance. They can also recover damages for pain and suffering. "Pain and suffering" is a general term that encompasses emotional losses you suffer due to discrimination: a lost sense of pride in your work, the loss of security that comes with employment, and the discouraging process of searching for another job. These losses are not insignificant. They can make up a substantial portion of a discrimination settlement.

In addition to actual damages and emotional damages, employees can also recover punitive damages from an employer who has illegally discriminated against them. Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant for illegal conduct in order to deter such actions in the future. Unlike many other states, California has not set a cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be imposed. The punitive damages must still be reasonable, though. For example: if the employee's actual damages were $5,000, it would be wildly disproportionate to impose a punitive fine of $10 million. But if an employer's actions were especially egregious, and the employee's actual damages were $1 million, then a $10 million fine might be reasonable under the circumstances. The amount of punitive damages will be determined by the facts of each unique case.

For more information

If you face any marital status discrimination issues, call us at 888-762-0297 to discuss your situation. We are here to help.

Consultations are free.

We represent clients in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Orange County, and Northern and Southern California.

Last updated on August 19, 2021.

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