What is a Protected Class?

Both federal and state laws prevent employers from discriminating against employees because of their actual or perceived inclusion in certain protected classes. A protected class is one defined by certain characteristics, and if you or a coworker has been discriminated against in the workplace because of a protected class status, you may have a claim for compensation under certain employment laws. To learn more about your legal options, call or contact an expert in employment law in your area today.

Federal Protected Classes

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act are just a few of the federal laws that protect actual or presumed members of a protected class. It is important to remember that a person does not actually have to be a part of a protected class in order to receive protection against discrimination. It is merely enough that an employer believes the employee is a member of a protected class to extend protections to their employment. Under federal law, an employer is not allowed to discriminate against an employee based on the following protected classes: 

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Age (40 and older)
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information

These protections extend not only to employees of a company but to potential applicants, as well. If you think that your employment was denied because of your inclusion in a protected class, you may also have a claim.

Additional California Protected Classes

California has also expanded the list of protected classes under state law. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), and the California Equal Pay Act all provide safeguards for members of federally protected classes as well as the following:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and gender expression
  • Ancestry
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions
  • Other medical conditions
  • AIDS/HIV status
  • Marital status
  • Military or Veteran status
  • Political affiliations or activities
  • Status as a victim of domestic violence, assault, or stalking

Certain municipalities within California also provide additional protection to certain classes, so it is important to check with a local employment law attorney about your legal options. For example, some municipalities prohibit discrimination based on a person’s height or weight.

When do Protected Classes Apply?

In California, all employers that have five or more employees are subject to the state anti-discrimination laws based on an employee’s actual or perceived protected class. Federal laws apply generally to California employers with 15 or more employees with certain exceptions. For example, equal pay discrimination between men and women applies regardless of the number of employees, but age discrimination at the federal level only applies for employers with 20 of more employees. An experienced employment law attorney will be able to review the specific facts of your case and provide legal guidance about what anti-discrimination laws may apply.

Talk to a Local Employment Lawyer

If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on a protected class, call or contact a local employment law attorney today.