A California executive who was fired from his high-ranking position in 2016 recently tried to argue that his firing was a violation of California’s employment discrimination laws. Specifically, the man argued that the CEO of the company – who happened to be his mother-in-law – fired him because of his marital status. The California Court of Appeal determined that the evidence he provided was insufficient to support his claim. As a result, they found that he could not bring a claim based on marital status discrimination.
CEO Fires Son-in-Law in California
In the case, the executive held a high-ranking management position with the Friendship House Association of American Indians, Inc. company. In 2000, he married the CEO’s daughter, who also worked for the company for a period of time. The couple began to have marital problems in 2014. The executive’s wife reportedly claimed that he began to act suspiciously. Specifically, he relapsed on drugs and withdrew large sums of money from a joint retirement fund. The wife reportedly spoke with her mother – the CEO of the company – and explained her husband’s situation. She emphasized that she felt unsafe and that she was concerned he would turn violent against her or other employees at the company. The man’s wife successfully petitioned the court for a restraining order against him. He was then fired by the CEO.
The fired executive filed a lawsuit against the CEO claiming that his termination was based solely on the fact that he was married to her daughter. This, he argued, was in violation of the employee protections provided under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Marital Status Discrimination Protections in California
There are no federal laws that prohibit employers from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of marital status. California, however, is one of many states that offers marital status discrimination protection. The California Fair Housing and Employment Act specifically prohibits employers from making employment-related decisions based on an employee’s (or potential employee’s) marital status.
Unless employers can show a bona fide reason for doing so, they are prohibited from:
- Refusing to hire or employ a person;
- Refusing to select a person for a training program leading to employment;
- Bar or discharge a person from employment;
- Bar or discharge a person from an employment training program; or
- Discriminate against a person regarding compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of their marital status.
Bona Fide Reasons for Making Adverse Employment Decisions Because of Marital Status
The California law specifically excludes actions in which an employer’s decision to make adverse employment determinations are based on “bona fide” reasons. What are bona fide reasons? The statute that prohibits marital status discrimination also provides examples of what may qualify as exceptions to this rule.
According to the California Government Section 12940(a)(3), employers have the right to:
- Reasonably regulate;
- The working of spouses in the same department, division, or facility;
- For reasons of supervision, safety, security, or morale;
So, an employer may make employment decisions and consider the marital status of an employee or employees if those actions are (1) reasonable, (2) consistent with the commission’s rules and regulations; and (3) intended to aid safety or morale.
The Law Protects Classes of People, Not Specific People
The executive argued that his termination was based “solely because of his status as the spouse” of the CEO. The California Court of Appeal disagreed with his assessment. The Court explained that the marital status protection provided by California law is intended to “prevent discrimination against classes of people,” and not “the status of being married to a particular person.” Rather than suffering discrimination because he was married, the executive argued that he suffered discrimination because of who he was married to. The California discrimination law is not intended to be used in such cases of particularly. As a result, the Court was not persuaded by his argument.
Fighting Adverse Employment Decisions Because of Marital Status
The executive in this case was not successful in establishing a case of marital discrimination. However, that does not mean that there are not legitimate cases of marital status employment discrimination. The California law is intended to protect classes of individuals who may suffer adverse employment treatment because of their marital status. This includes unwed single mothers, pregnant women, partners in a same-sex marriage, and single people.
If you believe that you have suffered discrimination at work, or have been passed over for a job, because of your marital status you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Contact our experienced marital status discrimination attorneys today to set up a free consultation. We will review the details of your case, determine liability, and answer any questions you may have.