[COLUMN] Informing employer of unlawful conduct at work is protected activity

When job termination can give rise to employee’s legal action

Q: I’m an account executive at a real estate company. I enjoy the work and I’m good at it. But I started having problems when I went on maternity leave, my boss gave the majority of my  best accounts to male colleagues on my team. I didn’t get them back when I returned to work. 

But then those male colleagues got promotions that I also applied for but didn’t get. My boss  said it was based on the performances of their accounts; accounts that I first built up! I complained  to HR, but they said there wasn’t evidence of discrimination because another woman on our team  also got a promotion. At my most recent performance evaluation, my boss said the company would  have to let me go because I had the lowest scores on my team. 

I learned later that my boss thought he was doing me a favor by not giving me too many  responsibilities that would take me away from being a mom. Do I have a claim for discrimination? 

A: You may have a claim for gender discrimination against your former employer. The  California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits employers from subjecting  employees to an adverse employment action due to the employee’s gender.

An adverse employment action harms the employee with respect to conditions at  work. It may include any actions that likely impair an employee’s job performance or prospects for  advancement. For instance, it may include the boss depriving the employee of her best accounts and  denying a promotion because she is “a mom.” This is a characteristic of gender.

You may also have a separate, independent claim for retaliation. FEHA also protects  employees against retaliation for protected activity. A protected activity for purposes of the anti retaliation law includes an employee’s reasonable and good faith act of opposing a practice  forbidden by law, such as discrimination.

When you complained to your former employer’s HR about discrimination, you were  engaging in a protected activity under the anti-retaliation laws. If the evidence shows that you were  ostracized and ultimately discharged as a result of your complaint of discrimination, you may be  entitled to recover lost wages resulting from the employer’s unlawful retaliation.

In addition, a victim of employment discrimination or unlawful retaliation may recover  attorneys’ fees and costs. This legal remedy enables employees to have access to counsel, who may  agree to help you on a contingency (no recovery, no fee) basis. In this way, a meritorious claim can be  pursued without the employee having to pay the upfront costs of a court action.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are  confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit  www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top  Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super  Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino  Overseas.]

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