California employees are protected against discrimination based on
marital status by Government Code 12940(a). This broad protection is
further defined by 2 Cal C. Regs 7292.1(a) as an individuals state of
marriage, non-marriage, divorce or dissolution, separation, widowhood,
or other marital state. State agencies may not do business (in excess
of $100,000 per year) with any company that discriminate in providing
benefits between employees with spouses and employees with domestic
partners. Publ Con. C. Section 10295.3.
This simple set of laws has led to some interesting if not bewildering
court cases. In Q & A format, here’s some issues:
Can employers regulate spouses working together? Yes. rules against
married coworkers are prohibiting, but employers may reasonable
regulate the working of spouses in the same department.
What can the employer do if two employees get married after they have
been working at the company? Regulations allow that the employer
“shall make reasonable efforts to assign job duties so as to minimize
problems of supervision, safety, security or morals.”
What common examples of marital status discrimination have you been
asked to get involved in? Unwed mothers; refusal to hire single people
because they are single; granting of maternity leave to married people
Is an employer rule against not hiring both spouses legal? Depends. In
the Hope Int’t University vs Superior Court (Rouanzoin) case from
2004, the employer discharged two married professors because it
“simply couldn’t have two married professors making up an entire
My boss hates my spouse. Is that marital discrimination? No. “Marital
status” discrimination does not extend to the status of being married
to a particular person. There must be an employer objection to
marriage as an institution.
I’m married to a person of a different race. I was denied promotion
because of it! Is that illegal? Yes! That’s racial discrimination and
associational rights are thereby violated.
A married co worker had an affair and got fired. Is that ok? Yes, that
may violate some contractual right, but it is not marital
As always, this blog is not to be considered legal advise. Be sure to
see an attorney who specializes in employment matters in your state.
We practice only in California.
Employment Attorney San Diego & Los Angeles