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Gender Discrimination in the Workplace: Types, Examples & Protections

Gender Discrimination in the Workplace: Types, Examples & Protections

Gender discrimination remains an unfortunate reality across many industries. Through decades of representing employees, our firm understands how easily unlawful practices like gender discrimination slip under the radar.

Discrimination takes many forms; awareness of the less obvious manifestations is key to identifying and addressing concerns early. California and federal law protect against several specific types of gender discrimination.

As employment attorneys in Los Angeles, we partner with people facing all forms of mistreatment and work to protect your rights.

Forms of Gender Discrimination in Employment

When people think of gender discrimination, they often picture the most overt behaviors – a manager tossing a qualified application when they see a feminine name, for instance. While such blatantly sexist hiring practices still occur more than anyone would like to admit, discrimination typically proves more subtle.

Rather than one egregious incident, bias often manifests through subtly unfair patterns over weeks and months. An employer never says pregnancy makes someone less committed to their job, but they continuously assign key projects to non-pregnant coworkers. Leadership resists promoting capable women, chalking it up to “lacking leadership potential.” Salary gaps slowly grow as high performers watch male peers receive larger raises year after year.

These trends erode workplace equality just as much as explicit discrimination once did. Thankfully, California employment law equips employees with recourse when facing both overt and implicit bias.

Unequal Hiring, Promotions, Pay

At its core, gender discrimination means denying equal treatment and opportunities due to someone’s sex or gender. This includes practices such as:

  • Refusing to interview or hire candidates because of gender
  • Assigning certain roles exclusively to men or women
  • Promoting male employees faster or more frequently
  • Paying women less than men for the same work

Unequal treatment permeates industries from film and tech to academia and law. Studies reveal that 60% of male managers feel uncomfortable with the idea of working alone with female colleagues. Such ingrained mindsets fuel biased evaluations and fewer advancement options.

Discrimination may also stem from incorrect assumptions regarding pregnancy and motherhood. Companies sometimes deny opportunities based on hypothesizing that women will take maternity leave, which would be inconvenient for the companies.

Rather than plan for these possibilities, some companies minimize the amount of women eligible for advancement. Such treatment remains patently illegal.

Inappropriate Sexual Behavior

Beyond directly denying professional growth, gender discrimination also appears through inappropriate sexualization. Forms include:

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment encompasses unwelcome sexual comments, advances, or touching. Behavior like executives regularly complimenting young interns on appearances or managers pulling employees onto their laps at happy hours constitutes harassment. So does repeatedly asking coworkers on dates after they’ve said no. These actions are illegal when:

  • Engaging in such conduct is made an implicit term of employment
  • Accepting/rejecting it impacts decisions on pay, promotions, or termination
  • It creates an intimidating or humiliating environment

Too few feel safe reporting for fear of professional repercussions or disbelief. Know that laws exist protecting your right to a harassment-free workplace.

Hostile Work Environments

Similarly, hostile work environments form when patterns of inappropriate behavior make employees feel continually intimidated or offended because of their gender. This includes overt cases, such as displaying lewd images around the office, as well as more subtle scenarios, such as colleagues making sexist jokes and comments.

Companies bear responsibility for gender discrimination and sexual harassment if an agent of the company took part in the behavior, or if the company or its agent knew about the behavior and failed to stop it.

Discrimination Protections for LGBTQ Employees

While federal law omits explicit protections for LGBTQ+ workers, California laws clearly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Unfortunately, few national regulations shield lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer employees. Only 22 states offer protections against related discrimination. This permits employers across much of the country to legally fire workers purely for being gay or transgender.

Research reveals nearly half of LGBTQ individuals experience mistreatment or harassment at work. Given outdated federal systems, change starts at the state level.

Progress Through CA Employment Laws

  • California laws make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Employers cannot use these factors to make decisions on hiring, firing, promotions, or compensation.
  • Workplace harassment is a common challenge for LGBTQ employees in California. State laws require companies to implement training and procedures preventing such mistreatment. Employers who fail to respond can face charges for enabling harassment.
  • With less explicit discrimination these days, issues often show through patterns over time. LGBTQ staff may find themselves passed up for leadership opportunities, restricted from interacting with certain clients, or facing general isolation. Know these constitute grounds for valid complaints.
  • If transitioning gender, California employers must grant reasonable accommodations around uniforms, restroom use, etc. Denying appropriate adjustments counts as discrimination.

Leading advocates recommend starting documentation early when patterns emerge. This provides necessary evidence showcasing treatment compared to non-LGBTQ peers over time. While companies aim for equitable processes, gaps persist between good intentions and reality.

Pregnancy Leave & Discrimination Protection

Pregnant employees face an array of mistreatment risks, from harassment and hostile attitudes to denial of accommodations. Key regulations offer critical safeguards.

California Pregnancy Leave Rights & Job Protection

Beyond guarding against biased treatment, laws like FMLA and CFRA grant reasonable leave windows for expecting mothers. Key provisions include:

  • Up to 4 months of job-protected leave for pregnancy/childbirth recovery
  • Continued health coverage during pregnancy disability leave
  • Accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions
  • Options for fathers, adoptive parents, etc., as well

Despite progress, gaps persist between formal rights and actual experience. Employers continue looking for loopholes to deny extended absences or force early returns. Know your full protections and work with attorneys at the first sign of pushback over warranted requests.

Recognizing the Signs of Gender Discrimination

Because most discrimination today manifests through ongoing patterns rather than singular incidents, early documentation proves critical. Be proactive in tracking any symptoms that seem beyond random chance, such as:

  • Repeatedly getting passed up for leadership opportunities
  • Making less than colleagues with similar skills and tenure
  • Experiencing hostile reactions to pregnancy/family plans
  • Feeling discomfort discussing LGBTQ partners at work

While individual occurrences could reflect normal challenges, consistent trends should prompt a deeper investigation into potential bias.

If you face concerns about gender discrimination or hostile environments, know that laws exist protecting employees against such unlawful treatment. However, asserting your rights often necessitates legal guidance from employment attorneys experienced in discrimination cases.

Lean on employment law professionals for assessing situations accurately, navigating company procedures, and determining strategy if pursuing charges. Keep in mind that early intervention generally leads to faster, more favorable resolutions.

Connecting with Employment Lawyers in California

While laws aim to prevent discriminatory treatment, changing deeply ingrained biases proves an ongoing journey requiring diligence from all involved. Employers must move beyond superficial compliance to fostering actively inclusive cultures where everyone feels empowered to grow.

Meanwhile, employees play critical roles in advocating around policies and behaviors, dragging progress backward, even unintentionally. Progress relies on those affected feeling safe to question the status quo rather than stay silent against problematic norms.

Exercising such courage first requires awareness of rights and typical discrimination patterns. Lean on our attorneys to assess situations accurately rather than downplaying questionable experiences. Challenging systems is never easy, but the possibility of creating positive change makes discomfort worthwhile.

At the Malk Law Firm, our experienced employment attorneys partner with clients facing unlawful discrimination across California. Our firm understands this field inside and out. If you face mistreatment based on gender or other protected classes, reach out for a consultation. Let our experience strengthen your position and make things right. The time for change starts today.

Author Bio

Michael Malk is the Founder and Managing Attorney of Malk Law Firm, a Seattle employee rights law firm he started in 2007. With more than 20 years of experience practicing law, he has dedicated his career to representing clients throughout California and Washington in a wide range of legal areas, including unpaid wages, sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and other employee rights matters.

Michael received his Juris Doctor from the University of California— Davis School of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of Washington, and the American Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named as one of the “Top Attorneys in Southern California” by Los Angeles Magazine in 2018 and being selected as a Super Lawyer for six consecutive years.

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