Marital Status Discrimination

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): It is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire; to discharge or to terminate; to refuse to select or to bar or discharge an employee from a training program leading to employment; or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" because of the employee's marital status. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(a).

Marital status is defined as, "a(n) individual's state of marriage, non-marriage, divorce or dissolution, separation, widowhood, annulment, or other marital state." 2 Cal.C.Regs. §7292.1(a).

Example: An employer was found to have discriminated when it refused to hire unwed mothers and single people, as well as by denying maternity leave to unmarried mothers. Chen v. County of Orange, (2002) 96 C4th 926, 940 (dictum).

In order to bring a claim for discrimination based on an employee's marital status, the plaintiff needs to prove that the employee:

  • has a particular marital status, (i.e., single)
  • that the employee's job performance was satisfactory, or that the employee was qualified for the job which they were not hired for,
  • that the employee was subjected to discriminatory conduct, (Ex: being discharged from work)
  • and that other employees with a different marital status (i.e., who were not single) were not subjected to the discriminatory actions of the employer. (Ex: other workers who were married retained similar jobs, and the employee who is bringing the claim is single and lost his or her position to an individual with similar qualifications to the discharged employee but who was married).

Employers may not refuse to employ a husband or a wife simply because they are both working for the employer as a married couple. "California's marital status antidiscrimination laws are clear that marriage between two coworkers is not ipso facto a reason to get rid of one of them." Hope Int'l Univ. v. Sup. Ct. (Rouanzoin), (2004) 119 C4th 719, 724, 743. Example: A university was liable for terminating married professors.

However, despite that antidiscrimination laws forbid discrimination toward married individuals working for the same employer, "reasonable regulation" over the working of spouses in the same department is allowed. Cal. Gov. Code §12940(a)(3)(A). In addition, FEHC regulations state that the employer "shall make reasonable efforts to assign job duties so as to minimize problems of supervision, safety, security, or morale." 2 Cal. C. Regs. §7292.5(b) (emphasis added) Id.

However, employers who discharge employees that have known extramarital affairs are not discriminating on the basis of marital status. Hope Int'l Univ. v. Sup. Ct. (Rouanzoin). 119 C4th at 743.

Finally, employers may not discriminate against spouses of individuals the employer disfavors. For example, the employer may not discriminate against an employed white female solely because she married an African American male. Chen v. County of Orange 96 C4th at 943.

Contact Us

If you have experienced discrimination at your workplace based on your marital status, contact the esteemed marital status discrimination attorneys at Kokozian Law Firm, APC. 323-857-5900. Ask about our free initial consultation.