Associational discrimination occurs when an employee or job applicant faces adverse treatment because of their association or relationship with someone in a protected class, such as race, religion, or disability.
While many are familiar with typical forms of workplace discrimination, associational discrimination can be more difficult to recognize and prove. Yet, it still violates critical anti-discrimination laws.
If you believe you’ve been discriminated against due to an association with a protected class, understanding your legal options is essential. In this article, we’ll define associational discrimination, explore your rights, and explain how an experienced California associational discrimination lawyer at TONG LAW can help you seek justice.
What Constitutes Illegal Associational Discrimination?
Associational discrimination happens when an employer treats you differently, not because of your own protected characteristics but because of your relationship with someone who has those characteristics. For example, an employer may choose not to promote you because your spouse is disabled, even if you yourself do not have a disability.
Other common examples include:
- Not hiring someone because their spouse is a certain race or religion.
- Firing an employee because their child has a disability requiring frequent medical care.
- Refusing to give unpaid leave to care for an ill parent or domestic partner.
The key distinction is that the discrimination stems from the protected characteristic of your associate, not you. Yet, the law still protects you from such unfair treatment in the workplace.
Laws Prohibiting Associational Discrimination in the Workplace
A number of state and federal laws contain provisions that specifically prohibit associational discrimination. Some of the key statutes include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act – Prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Courts have held it covers associational discrimination.
- Americans With Disabilities Act – Bars discrimination based on disability and applies to those associated with people who have disabilities.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act – Protects against age discrimination, including based on association with someone over 40.
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – California law banning discrimination, including associational discrimination, in employment and housing.
So, if you are treated unfairly at work because of a protected characteristic of a relative, partner, child, etc., then the law is on your side. An attorney can leverage these statutes to build your case.
Your Legal Options if You’ve Experienced Associational Discrimination
If you believe you’ve been the victim of associational discrimination, California and federal law provide several options for taking action and enforcing your rights. Here are some of the most common legal remedies to consider:
File a Complaint with the EEOC or CRD
For workplace discrimination, you can file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD). They will investigate the allegations and either facilitate a settlement or give you a “right to sue” notice to proceed with a lawsuit. This starts creating a paper trail and puts the employer on notice.
Hire an Employment Lawyer
An experienced employment discrimination attorney can be invaluable in navigating the complex legal landscape around associational discrimination. They will evaluate your case, gather evidence, negotiate with the employer, and represent you in court if necessary. Having strong legal counsel levels the playing field.
Send a Demand Letter
Your lawyer can send a formal demand letter detailing the discriminatory actions taken and the remedies you want, such as policy changes, reinstatement, back pay, damages, etc. This shows the employer you are serious about pursuing your rights.
File a Lawsuit
If other resolution attempts fail, your employment law attorney can file a lawsuit against the employer seeking compensation for financial and emotional damages stemming from the discrimination.
Seek Reinstatement or Accommodation
The sooner you consult a qualified employment attorney after experiencing discrimination, the better. Time limits apply, and evidence can fade quickly, so don’t delay in enforcing your rights.
Justice and Compensation for Victims
As the above remedies show, the law provides pathways for victims of associational discrimination to gain justice, hold employers accountable, and receive rightful compensation. Verdicts and settlements in these cases can reach $1 million or more, especially in California. While no amount of money can undo the anguish of discrimination, receiving a settlement or court award serves as an important recognition of the harm done.
Success stories from other cases demonstrate the power of fighting back against unlawful policies. Outcomes like these not only compensate the victim financially but also reinforce and strengthen anti-discrimination protections moving forward. If you come forward with your own story of unfair treatment, you can make a difference for yourself and others.
Proving Your Associational Discrimination Claim
As the plaintiff, the burden of proof will be on you to show that discrimination most likely motivated the employer’s adverse actions. This is often done through:
- Comments or conduct indicating bias around the associate’s protected class, such as disability or race.
- Written records like emails, memos, texts, or letters showing discriminatory intent. Your lawyer will aggressively seek these during discovery.
- Suspicious timing between the adverse action and your exercise of an associational right like taking leave. Temporal proximity can help prove causation.
- Better treatment of comparable employees without your particular association suggests discrimination. Disparate treatment is a warning sign.
Thoroughly documenting each incident in real time and gathering as much evidence as possible will make or break your legal claim. An experienced employment attorney knows how to build a compelling case.
How an Attorney Can Help Your Case
Facing complex associational discrimination laws without legal representation is extremely difficult, which is why working with a skilled employment lawyer is so crucial.
Here are some of the key ways an attorney can help if you have a valid claim:
- Navigating complex laws and procedures – The law contains nuances that even HR doesn’t always understand correctly. An attorney is a trusted guide through the legal system.
- Gathering evidence and building your case – Lawyers have investigative resources and discovery tools for obtaining emails, documents, and testimonies that provide proof of discrimination.
- Negotiating with the employer for settlement – An attorney can leverage the law and evidence to negotiate a satisfactory settlement without needing to go to court. Many cases are resolved at this stage.
- Taking your case to court if necessary – If the employer refuses to settle, an experienced trial lawyer can advocate for you in court and give you the best chance at a favorable verdict or judgment.
- Ensuring you receive full compensation – Attorneys maximize the financial damages, back pay, reinstatement, policy changes, and other remedies you’re entitled to.
Without capable legal help, the cards are stacked against you as the plaintiff. These cases are particularly challenging without legal counsel. TONG LAW is prepared to zealously defend your rights against biased employers.
Consult an Experienced Associational Discrimination Lawyer
At TONG LAW, we have successfully handled associational discrimination cases over our years in practice. When you contact us for a consultation, here is what we bring to the table:
- Experience with disability, race, religion, and other associational discrimination claims under FEHA and federal law. We only represent plaintiffs in cases like these.
- A tailored approach based on the unique circumstances and dynamics of your workplace and relationships. No two cases are alike.
- Personalized attention and counsel throughout the process, from early strategizing to settlement or trial. You are more than just a case number.
- A proven track record of results, including verdicts and settlements for victims of unlawful discrimination.
Don’t let an employer get away with discriminatory treatment. Protect your rights and explore your legal options by contacting TONG LAW today for a confidential discussion about the details of your case.
You Have Rights – Hire an Experienced Associational Discrimination Lawyer Today
Associational discrimination, while lesser-known, violates critical anti-discrimination laws when it occurs. If you work in California and have faced unfair treatment based on a relative, spouse, or partner’s protected characteristics, you have legal rights to hold your employer accountable.
A wise first step is to include consulting with an experienced employment attorney to discuss your situation in depth.
At TONG LAW, we are committed advocates for employees facing discrimination. Contact us for a confidential consultation about your case. Together, we can work to stop unlawful workplace bias and get the justice you deserve.