California employers are, or should be, well-versed with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The FEHA is California’s anti-discrimination law. It applies to employers with 5 or more employees and prohibits employment discrimination based on race. This does not mean that employers are prohibited from making any decision based on race; rather, FEHA protects an employee from discrimination based on the race of the employee.
In Diego v. City of Los Angeles (2017) 15 Cal.App.5th 338, two police officers fatally shot and killed an unarmed, innocent man with autism. The officers were removed from the field following an investigation into the shooting. Afterwards, the officers sued for disparate treatment discrimination under the FEHA, alleging that they had been treated differently based on race since they were Hispanic and their victim was African-American. The officers prevailed at trial and won a verdict, but the court of appeal overturned the verdict because the victim’s race was an inappropriate consideration. Employment decisions can be based on “broader political concerns,” including the race of someone who is not the employee as long as the race of the employee was not a substantial factor in the employment decision. So, the LAPD could consider the community reaction to the shooting and decide not to return any employee to the field after fatally shooting an African-American without violating FEHA. The officers’ evidence failed to demonstrate that African-American officers, or any other non-Hispanic officers, would have been treated differently than they were treated following the shooting, and so their evidence could not support an employment discrimination verdict.
This case serves as a reminder that for FEHA discrimination claims, it’s the employee’s race that matters. FEHA guarantees equal treatment in the workplace to employees, so an employment discrimination claim must be based on the employee’s own protected characteristics. Even though the employees were not able to sue the employer under FEHA for the alleged unequal treatment of other individuals based on race, this case does not mean that there is no protection from such treatment under other laws, just that such discrimination is not employment discrimination.
DID YOU KNOW…
Besides race, the FEHA also prohibits discrimination based on religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status.
By Samson R. Elsbernd