New California court case reinforces disability discrimination rule

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The Fair Employment and Housing Act is a California law that, among other things, prohibits a wide array of discrimination in the workplace. If you are discriminated against in employment because of your status in a protected category like race, religion, gender, or mental or physical disability, you may have a legal cause of action under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

But to whom does the Fair Employment and Housing Act apply? There are many qualifiers; for instance, the Act only applies to employers with five or more employees.

Not every aspect of the applicability of the Fair Employment and Housing Act is clear cut. One of the common issues in many employment discrimination suits is whether or not the worker alleging discrimination was actually an employee and can therefore maintain a cause of action. In one new case from the California Court of Appeal, a general rule about a person's ability to sue for discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act was clarified.

Even receiving workers' compensation benefits does not make someone an employee

Only individuals who are considered employees can take advantage of the discrimination protections offered by the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The recent case centered on a reserve police officer who was a volunteer with the Santa Monica Police Department. The reserve officer alleged disability discrimination in his termination and filed suit against the city under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Normally, for the purposes of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, volunteers are not considered employees who are eligible for discrimination protection. However, although the reserve officer did not receive a salary, he was provided with a uniform, equipment related to his duties and an expense allowance. Furthermore, the reserve officer was receiving workers' compensation benefits, which the city extends to volunteer officers who are injured in the performance of their duties.

Was this enough to place the reserve officer in the sphere of employment contemplated by the Fair Employment and Housing Act? The court ruled that it was not. In the decision, the court wrote that workers' comp benefits were simply meant to help restore a volunteer to the position he or she would have been in had he or she not been injured in the performance of duties; in other words, workers' compensation benefits do not transform volunteers into employees for purposes of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Call a California employment discrimination lawyer to discuss your case

The recent California case is a limitation on the usefulness of the Fair Employment and Housing Act to volunteers. Even so, it goes to show how complex the applicability of workplace discrimination laws can be, and that anyone facing discrimination can seek to have their rights vindicated in court.

If you have been discriminated against in the employment context, you should get in touch with a California discrimination attorney. There may be legal remedies that can help right the wrongful conduct to which you were subjected.