The word “discrimination” is often used as a synonym for anything an employee may personally believe is unfair. In employment law; however, “discrimination” is narrowly defined and limited in context.

Legally, the term “discrimination” covers only actions that are taken against people because they belong to certain protected classes such as age, gender, race, and the many others that will be discussed in detail throughout this chapter. To discriminate means to treat those people in some way differently than other people who are not in the same class. This can be done at an individual level, i.e., the unequal treatment of someone because of their protected class, which is sometimes called “disparate treatment.” Additionally, a seemingly neutral employment practice that impact a protected class unequally may also be discrimination. This is sometimes referred to as “disparate impact.” For more information on protected classes in California, see Protected Classes.