Regardless of the many federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace, decades of evidence indicates that favoritism is alive and well in many companies. From providing more opportunities to certain employees for career training or development to giving them better performance reviews without justification, managers and supervisors across the nation practice favoritism every day. Worse, some employers recognize these unfair practices as wrong and detrimental to the overall work culture, but continue playing favorites anyway.

If you suspect your boss favors certain employees over others and this mistreatment has negatively impacted your life, review the information below to determine if you are entitled to pursue legal recourse in a workplace discrimination claim.

How Do You Prove Favoritism at Work?

Signs of Workplace Favoritism

If your manager or supervisor engages in the following behaviors, they may be practicing unfair favoritism:

  • Favors certain employees for promotions, pay raises, or other career development opportunities over others
  • Assigns them the most desired tasks or otherwise favors them in workload allocation
  • Offers them more resources, such as a higher budget, more recent technology, a larger staff, and additional coaching
  • Shares valuable information only with certain employees
  • Spends more time interacting with them about work-related and/or personal topics
  • Previews their work less thoroughly and provides more frequent and timely feedback
  • Gives certain employees undeserved positive performance evaluations or excessive praise that others do not receive
  • Offers them greater flexibility in terms of tardiness, sick days, and vacations than others
  • Encourages or considers the suggestions of only certain employees
  • Permits them to get away with behavior that would result in a reprimand for others, such as wasting time
  • Allows mistakes or policy violations to slide or even uses their authority to cover them up
  • Sides with certain employees in workplace disagreements

Is Workplace Favoritism Illegal?

Favoritism becomes illegal if an employer uses favoritism a means of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Discrimination occurs when an employer makes decisions about employment based on certain protected categories, such as failing to hire a qualified job candidate or refusing to offer different employees equal pay for the same work. These categories include age, race, color, national origin, ancestry, religious beliefs and practices, physical disabilities, mental or psychological disabilities, medical conditions, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, pregnancy, and military or veteran status.

Favoritism can involve sexual harassment if an employer makes submitting to sexual advances a condition of employment or offers workers additional benefits or opportunities for doing so. An employer may also demonstrate favoritism by illegally retaliating against workers who complain of discrimination or harassment, file official reports with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to report unsafe working conditions. Retaliation takes many forms, including cutting hours, reducing pay, assigning workers to unfavorable shifts or projects, reassigning their clients to others, or firing them. In some cases, a worker may be told they are being “laid off” when the real motivation for the termination is unlawful.

How Do You Prove Favoritism at Work?

California workers who experience favoritism through discrimination, harassment, or retaliation have multiple options for pursuing relief under various federal and state laws, but the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) often provides the highest level of protection for employee rights. Workers in private, state, and local organizations can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the agency responsible for investigating and settling such allegations.

In most cases, you have three years from the date of the harm to file an employment complaint with the DFEH. You can file an intake form by creating an account online in the interactive Cal Civil Rights System, completing and mailing a paper form, or calling the agency directly. This form must include information about the specific facts of any incidents, including dates and the name and contact information of the employer engaging in illegal activity. Provide the names and contact information of any witnesses who can corroborate your claim. You will be expected to provide copies of records, documents, or other relevant evidence, such as:

  • W-2 or 1099 forms
  • Written reprimands
  • Grievances
  • Transfer notices
  • Termination letters
  • Emails, text messages, or screenshots of conversations
  • Medical documentation if your case involves disability or pregnancy discrimination
  • Any other tangible documentation supporting your allegation

If DFEH accepts your request for investigation, they will prepare a complaint form for you to sign, which will be delivered to the person you are accusing of unfair treatment (the respondent). This person must provide a response to the complaint within the time specified by DFEH, and they will be interviewed and asked for records or documents relevant to the case. If there is reasonable cause to believe that you experienced a civil rights violation, then DFEH will notify all involved parties and may inform them that the agency intends to file a claim in court. However, before filing a claim, DFEH usually requires parties to attend mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, DFEH may proceed with filing the claim.

With a valid claim, you may recover out-of-pocket losses, damages for emotional distress, civil penalties, and/or punitive damages. Your employer may receive an injunction that prohibits the unlawful practices and be required to provide access to an employment opportunity, change policies, establish anti-discrimination training, and/or make reasonable accommodations.

If you have reason to believe that DFEH did not gather all evidence and/or interview all witnesses or that they misapplied the law to your case, you can appeal the complaint decision. You have ten days within the receipt of the closure letter to submit an appeal to the Appeals Unit of DFEH, and this appeal must include the evidence you believe they overlooked or how you understand the law to apply in your case. They will send you a letter notifying you if the appeal is accepted for review or rejected.

Protect Your Rights with Legal Counsel

Proving favoritism at work can be difficult, and the laws surrounding illegal employment practices are often confusing to navigate. Do not wait until your appeal is rejected before securing legal representation. Contact CA Employment Counsel as soon as you decide to pursue legal action so we can start on your case right away. Our firm focuses solely on employment law, meaning we have the knowledge, resources, and skills to deliver the best outcome in your case. We can help you determine if you were in fact the victim of unlawful treatment, explain your options for legal recourse, and protect your rights every step of the way.