Discrimination Based on Marital Status in California

Workplace discrimination can be a relatively common occurrence depending on the industry, and it comes in many shapes and severity levels. From simple offhand comments to insults and harassment, such discrimination can have an adverse effect on employees’ careers. 

Although not as common as some other forms of discrimination, discrimination based on marital status still happens on a daily basis across the United States. The good news is that a couple of laws and Acts prohibit such activities. 

Employers who make discriminatory remarks and ultimately change the victim’s contract for the worse often prey on employees that are ‘vulnerable’ in the sense that they’re vastly outnumbered. This can lead to fear, uncertainty, and humiliation of the targeted employee. 

Said employers don’t think they’ll be held liable because employees are often discouraged from reporting workplace discrimination under the pretense that their pay will be docked or they’ll get fired. 

If you’ve been discriminated against based on your marital status in California, here’s what you need to know and what you can do to hold your employers liable for damages caused by workplace discrimination and harassment.

Marital Status Discrimination Definition

In essence, marital status discrimination means treating employees differently (usually poorly) because of their marital status. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Denying employment benefits to employees who are single
  • Refusing to hire an applicant because of who they’re married to
  • Firing someone or docking pay for getting married/getting divorced

Many states (including California) have laws against discrimination based on marital, parental, familial, or caregiver status. For example, New York City and New York State have laws prohibiting marital status discrimination during the hiring process and throughout employment. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case on a federal level because marital status isn’t considered a protected class (like gender, race, disability, religion, and military status). This means that, depending on your job post, you may or may not be eligible for discrimination and harassment protections. 

Not everything is bleak on a federal level since there are some protections in place for specific job posts. The Civil Service Reform Act prohibits marital status discrimination in federal government employment and hiring, and there are also laws that protect employees against familial status discrimination. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Familial & Marital Status Discrimination

There are a couple of additional situations you should know about regarding the legality (or lack thereof) of marital status discrimination. 

Can Employers Legally Ask About Marital Status?

In general, asking applicants and employees about their marital status isn’t illegal in most states unless the question is being driven by making corporate/employment decisions based on the answer. 

At a federal level, employers can violate Title VII if these discriminatory questions limit the number of women (and sometimes men) in the workplace. 

Questions about marital status, pregnancy, children, and childcare arrangements during job interviews are considered ‘evidence of intent to discriminate’. 

Is Same-Sex Marital Status Discrimination Legal?

In today’s day and age, same-sex couples have the exact same rights as opposite-sex couples. Therefore, the law sees no difference between same-sex and opposite-sex marital statuses, meaning employers are not allowed to discriminate against their employees or applicants for having a same-sex partner or spouse. 

Refusing to hire, docking pay, or denying benefits to applicants and employees violates various marital status discrimination laws in California. Federal employment also extends protection to LGBT employees against discrimination of this kind. 

Treating same-sex couples differently to opposite-sex couples violates employment law and can incur large penalties if reported to the relevant authorities or in a court of law. 

What is Familial Status Discrimination? 

Familial status discrimination is defined as treating job candidates or employees poorly because they don’t (or do) have children. Some examples of familial status discrimination include:

  • Refusing to hire a candidate with children
  • Not promoting an employee because of their family responsibilities and tasks
  • Paying employees that don’t have children less

All of this constitutes familial status discrimination and is illegal in many cities and states due to familial status being a protected class. 

Are Employers Allowed to Provide Different Employment Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses Than Opposite-Sex Spouses?

Opposite-sex and same-sex spouses and partners must be treated the same way in a work environment. If employees who are married to or are in a relationship with people of the opposite sex receive certain benefits, the same must apply to people whose partners or spouses are of the same sex. 


While marital status isn’t considered a protected class on a federal level in the United States, there are cities and states where marital status discrimination is fully illegal and enforced. The major downside is that employees are often afraid to report discrimination and harassment of this kind, primarily due to the fear of losing their jobs. 

If you’ve been discriminated against based on your marital status in California, you’ve come to the right place. Freeburg & Granieri is a law firm that specializes in fighting against various forms of discrimination, including marital and familial status discrimination. 

We’d love to get in touch with you so we can help you right the wrongs you’ve experienced. Schedule a free consultation with us, and we’ll determine the best course of action.


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