Rising Religious Discrimination in California and Recent Amendments to the Fair Employment and Housing Act

In the last several weeks, our attorneys report a number of religious discrimination lawsuits.  One of these lawsuits was brought by a group of Muslim women on May 2nd against Urth Café in Orange County.  The women, who were wearing traditional Muslim hijabs or covering, allege that they were kicked out because of their religion.  Urth Cafe responded that the women were asked to leave because they violated the restaurants 45 minute seating policy when other customers were waiting for a table.    The Muslim women’s attorney claims that this seating policy reason was a pretext to kick them out due to religious reasons without formally admitting religious discrimination. Another lawsuit was brought by a Muslim woman against the Long Beach Police Department when one of its officers forced her to remove her religious covering (hijab) during an arrest.   Finally, another claim was brought by the California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of a Muslim high school student (Bayan Zehlif) who’s name in her yearbook was written as “Isis Phillips.”  The school claims it was a typo.  Our Los Angeles-based employment attorneys are constantly hearing reports of bullying and harassment and do not expect such religious discrimination to slow down any time soon.

Last month, there were several important amendments to California’s anti-discrimination law – Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  The laws took effect on April 1, 2016 and are summarized below.  First, one of the amendments expands the definition of employees when it comes to which employers are covered by FEHA.  Now, FEHA covers employers with at least five employees not necessarily working within the state of California.  As long as there is one employee working in California, the total number may include these other workers toward FEHA’s five employee threshold.  In addition, the workers do not have to be employees and may be unpaid interns or volunteers to add up to FEHA’s five workers requirement.

Next, more amendments were added clarifying FEHA’s Pregnancy Disability Leave (“PDL”).  One of these is that PDL is not available for each pregnancy rather than only once a year.  Further, there are new breastfeeding-related protections.  See our blog on female pilots who sued the airlines regarding pregnancy and breastfeeding discrimination.  In addition, transgender individuals who are pregnant or are affected by pregnancy may be entitled to PDL accommodation.  See this blog on Transgender Discrimination.  Also, the four months of PDL may be split up and does not have to be taken consecutively.

There is also an interesting expansion to the enforcement ability of the Department of Fair Employment Housing (“DFEH”).  Now, the DFEH regulators may act to prevent discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace even if such violations have not taken place yet.

If you believe that you, or another employee, suffered an employment law matter related to religious discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, school, or else, prompt action to preserve your rights is vital since the statute of limitation is a short one year.  Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free no obligation consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.