California Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959

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The California Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959, codified as Government Code §§12900 - 12996,[1] is a California statute used to fight sexual harassment and other forms of unlawful discrimination in employment and housing, which was passed on September 18, 1959.


The FEHA is the principal California statute prohibiting employment discrimination covering employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, apprenticeship programs and any person or entity who aids, abets, incites, compels, or coerces the doing of a discriminatory act. It prohibits employment discrimination based on race or color; religion; national origin or ancestry, physical disability; mental disability or medical condition; marital status; sex or sexual orientation; age, with respect to persons over the age of 40; and pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The FEHA also prohibits retaliation against anyone for opposing any practice forbidden by the Act or for filing a complaint, testifying, or assisting in proceedings under the FEHA.

An amendment passed in 1978 requires employers to provide an unpaid job-protected leave to employees disabled by pregnancy (also known as "pregnancy disability leave") for up to four months.[2] The legality of this statute and its consistency with federal law was upheld by the Supreme Court in California Federal Savings & Loan Ass'n v. Guerra (1987). After the passage of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, pregnant employees in California also became eligible to receive temporary disability insurance benefits under the California State Disability Insurance program.


Various individual states within the United States have anti-discrimination laws which sometimes differ from federal law; these laws are provided in addition to the federal law, and may offer more desirable avenues to victims of harassment and discrimination.

The FEHA was adopted with the stated purpose of providing effective remedies to eliminate certain types of employment discrimination.[3]

The FEHA [4] offers protections that are similar and often more potent that those available under federal counterparts, like Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.[5][6] These protections include, but are not limited to, attorney fee awards and reimbursement of certain case related expenses to prevailing plaintiffs.[7] Additionally, the FEHA sometimes applies different and less stringent standards for meeting the criteria related to harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.[8]


California law and the FEHA also allow for the imposition of punitive damages[9][10] when a corporate defendant's officers, directors or managing agents engage in harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, or when such persons approve or consciously disregard prohibited conduct by lower-level employees in violation of the rights or safety of the plaintiff or others.

The California Court of Appeals opinion in the landmark sexual harassment case of Weeks. v. Baker & McKenzie[11] is a good example of how the FEHA works to protect employees in California. Settlements in FEHA cases can actually be quite complex and require complex negotiations.[12][13]


Whether seeking an investigation under FEHA or a suit in court, the process usually begins with the victim filing a complaint[14] of discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.[15][16]


  1. ^ "California Fair Employment and Housing Act - FEHA - Government Code 12900 - 12996 - findUSlaw".
  2. ^ "FindLaw's United States Supreme Court case and opinions". Findlaw. Retrieved 2016-06-09.
  3. ^ "California Government Code § 12920". California Legislative Information. California State Legislature. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  4. ^ "FEHA" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-09-05. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  5. ^ "Laws & Guidance". Archived from the original on 2005-02-16. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  6. ^ California State Assembly. "Prudence Kay Poppink Act". 1999–2000 Session of the Legislature. Statutes of California. State of California. Ch. 1049 § 6. The law of this state in the area of disabilities provides protections independent from those in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336). Although the federal act provides a floor of protection, this state's law has always, even prior to passage of the federal act, afforded additional protections.
  7. ^ "California Government Code Section 12965 - California Attorney Resources - California Laws".
  8. ^ Smith, Kyle (22 November 2016). "Disability Discrimination in the California Workplace". Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  9. ^ "Why California's FEHA is used in Most Discrimination Cases". Archived from the original on 2011-08-14. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  10. ^ "TSSW: Employment Law Specialists". Archived from the original on 2011-09-21. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  11. ^ "FindLaw's California Court of Appeal case and opinions". Findlaw.
  12. ^ "Beware of the "Fine Print": Settlement Agreements in FEHA Cases - GJEL Accident Attorneys". 19 August 2011.
  14. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2008-01-28. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  15. ^ California, State of. "DFEH – Dept Fair Employment & Housing".
  16. ^ "Address, phone, and contact information for California EEOC offices and California state employment agencies".

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