Discrimination Complaints Stable Last Year

After several years of steady increases, the number of discrimination complaints filed was stable last year. The Labor Commissioner received a total of 689 discrimination complaints during 1995, compared to 684 complaints in 1994. The relatively unchanged total contrasts sharply with recent year-to-year experience.

Discrimination complaints had totaled 658 in 1993, increasing from 539 cases in 1992. There were 389 cases opened in 1991, 330 complaints in 1990, and 241 investigations initiated in 1989.

The Labor Commissioner enforces 20 provisions of the Labor Code prohibiting discrimination or retaliation against employees for engaging in certain protected activities.

The most frequently occurring complaint last year alleged retaliation or discrimination for filing a complaint with the Labor Commissioner (Labor Code Section 98.6). These complaints totaled 229, accounting for one-third of the discrimination complaints. The second most frequent complaint alleged sexual orientation discrimination.

The Labor Commissioner received 160 complaints last year alleging sexual orientation discrimination. That total is a slight increase over 1994, when 156 such complaints were filed. In 1993, the first year the Labor Commissioner accepted sexual orientation complaints under Assembly Bill 2601 enacted in 1992, 156 complaints were filed.

The Labor Commissioner's discrimination complaint investigation procedure provides an administrative investigation and remedy as an alternative to filing a civil lawsuit.

Complaint response involves a field investigation, including witness interviews and examination of relevant material evidence. The findings are reported to the Labor Commissioner, who issues a decision, or as in a small number of cases, remains the case for further examination in an investigative hearing. Many cases are settled or withdrawn before reaching the Labor Commissioner for decision.

In cases in which discrimination is found, the Labor Code provides four possible remedies: a cease and desist order, an order to rehire or reinstate an employee, reimbursement of lost wages, and requiring an employer to post notices. The Labor Commissioner cannot award punitive damages.

A decision issued by the Labor Commissioner may be appealed to the Director of Industrial Relations. Complainants who exercise this administrative process retain the right to pursue legal action.

The Labor Commissioner issued decisions in 52 cases during 1995, and found in favor of the employee in 18 of those cases. In 22 cases either the employer or the employee appealed the Labor Commissioner's decision to the Director. A total of 10 cases resulted in investigative hearings at the order of the Labor Commissioner or the Director. Other dispositions of cases during 1995 included: 118 cases dismissed, 141 cases abandoned by the complainant, 65 cases withdrawn, and 39 settlements. Three cases were litigated to obtain an employer's compliance.

The Labor Commissioner's annual discrimination complaint report to the Legislature is available on the DIR Home Page at www.dir.ca.gov. A copy is also available by writing to the Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, P.O. Box 420603, San Francisco, CA 94142-0603.

1995 Discrimination Complaints

Numerical breakdown by category of the discrimination complaints received by State Labor Commissioner in 1995. Complaints that alleged more than one type of discrimination listed with categories combined.

             Labor Commissioner complaint                            229
             Sexual orientation                                      161
             Safety complaint retaliation                            100
             Safety complaint retaliation/
                   refusal to work in unsafe conditions               66
             Whistleblower                                            27
             Gender-based wage discrimination                         22
             Jury duty                                                21
             Disclosure of wages                                      10
             Whistleblower/safety complaint retaliation               10
             Child care facility complaints                            8
             Refusal to work in unsafe conditions                      7
             Political activity                                        6
             Wage garnishment                                          6
             Labor Commissioner complaint/whistleblower                5
             Safety complaint retaliation/
                   refusal to work in unsafe conditions/
                   Labor Commissioner complaint                        3
             Alcohol and drug rehabilitation                           2
             Volunteer firefighter                                     1
             Shopping investigator                                     1
             School visits                                             1
                   Labor Commissioner complaint/
             safety complaint retaliation                              1
                   Labor Commissioner complaint/
             disclosure of wages                                       1
                   Gender-based wage discrimination/
             shopping investigator                                     1

             Total discrimination complaints                         689