Is Retaliation Illegal In California?
By Corey Hanrahan
Is retaliation illegal in California? Yes, it is actually illegal under both California and federal law. It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for reporting or opposing prohibited discrimination or harassment. Importantly, retaliation claims can be brought to trial even if the employee’s primary claims are dismissed. This is because to prevail on a retaliation claim, you are not required to prove the underlying claim, but only need to show that you had a good faith belief in your underlying claim. This helps to further the policy behind the law, to encourage employees to report unlawful conduct, without having to worry that they could be terminated if the conduct turns out to not be unlawful.
“…This helps to further the policy behind the law, to encourage employees to report unlawful conduct, without having to worry that they could be terminated if the conduct turns out to not be unlawful…”
A classic example of a claim where the underlying claim cannot be proven, but the retaliation claim can still go to trial is as follows: Imagine you make a complaint of discrimination in the workplace because you are the only female employee, and you notice that the male employees all receive higher pay than you. The male supervisor becomes upset with the apparent accusation that he is discriminating against you, so he fires you. So long as you have a good faith belief that the pay is discriminatory, you are protected from being terminated for making that complaint. But let’s assume the employer proves that the pay disparity is based on a lawful seniority system, and you are unable to prove it is discriminatory. That discrimination claim may be dismissed by the court prior to trial. But, that does not mean that your retaliation claim will also be dismissed. As long as you can prove that you had a good faith belief that the pay disparity was discriminatory, your complaint of gender discrimination is still protected, and you can still proceed to trial with your retaliation claim.
Additionally, employees in California can sue for retaliation where the retaliation is expressly unlawful under state or federal law, or where the retaliation violates fundamental public policy.
If you have been subjected to any form of retaliation, or are hesitant to make a complaint of unlawful conduct at work, contact The Hanrahan Firm for a free consultation. We have helped employees all across California with pursuing their rights against retaliation.