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Adverse Action
protected characteristic

Basics of Workplace Discrimination

The act of employment discrimination can take many forms.

Generally, it occurs when a company takes an adverse action against an employee or job applicant because of their race, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability, or any other protected characteristic listed below.

An adverse action can be termination, demotion, a cut in pay, or an undesirable transfer.


In employment law, a protected characteristic is a trait that may not be the basis for employment decisions. Traits include:

  • race

  • religion

  • color

  • age (if 40 or over)

  • national origin

  • ancestry

  • physical or mental disability

  • medical condition

  • marital status

  • gender

  • sex

  • sexual orientation

  • pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions of any female employee

Who is liable for discrimination in the workplace?
In discrimination cases, only the company is liable. The individual who does the discriminating will not be personally liable because the adverse action stems from the company.

Retaliation: A Common Form of Discrimination

A retaliation case occurs when an employer punishes a worker for opposing employment discrimination.

Punishment (or retaliation) can come in the form of a wrongful termination, demotion, a cut in pay, or an undesirable transfer.


An employee can legally and ethically oppose employment discrimination through any of the following protected activities listed below:

  • Filing or being a witness in a discrimination charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit.

  • Communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment.

  • Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment.

  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination.

  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others.

  • Requesting accommodation of a disability or for a religious practice.

  • Asking managers or co-workers about salary information to uncover potentially discriminatory wages.

It is unlawful for employers to retaliate against their employees for engaging in any of these protected activities. To learn more, visit our Retaliation page.

If you have been terminated or demoted because of one of the protected characteristics or activities above, contact Reyes & Associates right away. 

While our main office is located near Downtown Los Angeles, we offer free, easy to use, and secure video call consultations to serve clients throughout California.

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