CACI 2500 Disparate Treatment—Essential Factual Elements (Gov. Code, § 12940(a))

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

2500 Disparate Treatment—Essential Factual Elements (Gov. Code, § 12940(a))

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] wrongfully discriminated against [him/her/nonbinary pronoun]. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1.That [name of defendant] was [an employer/[other covered entity]];

2.That [name of plaintiff] [was an employee of [name of defendant]/applied to [name of defendant] for a job/[describe other covered relationship to defendant]];

3.[That [name of defendant] [discharged/refused to hire/[other adverse employment action]] [name of plaintiff];]


[That [name of defendant] subjected [name of plaintiff] to an adverse employment action;]


[That [name of plaintiff] was constructively discharged;]

4.That [name of plaintiff]’s [protected status—for example, race, gender, or age] was a substantial motivating reason for [name of defendant]’s [decision to [discharge/refuse to hire/[other adverse employment action]] [name of plaintiff]/conduct];

5.That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

6.That [name of defendant]’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

New September 2003; Revised April 2009, June 2011, June 2012, June 2013, May 2020

Crowdsource Lawyers

Directions for Use

This instruction is intended for use when a plaintiff alleges disparate treatment discrimination under the FEHA against an employer or other covered entity. Disparate treatment occurs when an employer treats an individual less favorably than others because of the individual’s protected status. In contrast, disparate impact (the other general theory of discrimination) occurs when an employer has an employment practice that appears neutral but has an adverse impact on members of a protected group. For disparate impact claims, see CACI No. 2502, Disparate Impact—Essential Factual Elements.

If element 1 is given, the court may need to instruct the jury on the statutory definition of “employer” under the FEHA. Other covered entities under the FEHA include labor organizations, employment agencies, and apprenticeship training programs. (See Gov. Code, § 12940(a)–(d).)

Read the first option for element 3 if there is no dispute as to whether the employer’s acts constituted an adverse employment action. Read the second option and also give CACI No. 2509, “Adverse Employment Action” Explained, if whether there was an adverse employment action is a question of fact for the jury. If constructive discharge is alleged, give the third option for element 3 and also give CACI No. 2510, “Constructive Discharge” Explained. Select “conduct” in element 4 if either the second or third option is included for element 3.

Note that there are two causation elements. There must be a causal link between the discriminatory animus and the adverse action (see element 4), and there must be a causal link between the adverse action and the damage (see element 6). (See Mamou v. Trendwest Resorts, Inc. (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 686, 713 [81 Cal.Rptr.3d 406].)

Element 4 requires that discrimination based on a protected classification be a substantial motivating reason for the adverse action. (See Harris v. City of Santa Monica (2013) 56 Cal.4th 203, 232 [152 Cal.Rptr.3d 392, 294 P.3d 49]; see also CACI No. 2507, “Substantial Motivating Reason” Explained.) Modify element 4 if plaintiff was not actually a member of the protected class, but alleges discrimination because the plaintiff was perceived to be a member, or associated with someone who was or was perceived to be a member, of the protected class. (See Gov. Code, § 12926(o).)

For damages instructions, see applicable instructions on tort damages.

Sources and Authority

Discrimination Prohibited Under Fair Employment and Housing Act. Government Code section 12940(a).

Perception and Association. Government Code section 12926(o).

“Race” and “Protective Hairstyles.” Government Code section 12926(w), (x).

“[C]onceptually the theory of ‘[disparate] treatment’ … is the most easily understood type of discrimination. The employer simply treats some people less favorably than others because of their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” (Mixon v. Fair Employment and Housing Com. (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 1306, 1317 [237 Cal.Rptr. 884], quoting Teamsters v. United States (1977) 431 U.S. 324, 335–336, fn. 15 [97 S.Ct. 1843, 52 L.Ed.2d 396].)

“California has adopted the three-stage burden-shifting test for discrimination claims set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792 [93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed. 2d 668]. ‘This so-called McDonnell Douglas test reflects the principle that direct evidence of intentional discrimination is rare, and that such claims must usually be proved circumstantially. Thus, by successive steps of increasingly narrow focus, the test allows discrimination to be inferred from facts that create a reasonable likelihood of bias and are not satisfactorily explained.’ ” (Sandell v. Taylor-Listug, Inc. (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 297, 307 [115 Cal.Rptr.3d 453], internal citations omitted.)

“The McDonnell Douglas framework was designed as ‘an analytical tool for use by the trial judge in applying the law, not a concept to be understood and applied by the jury in the factfinding process.’ ” (Abed v. Western Dental Services, Inc. (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 726, 737 [233 Cal.Rptr.3d 242].)

“At trial, the McDonnell Douglas test places on the plaintiff the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. This step is designed to eliminate at the outset the most patently meritless claims, as where the plaintiff is not a member of the protected class or was clearly unqualified, or where the job he sought was withdrawn and never filled. While the plaintiff’s prima facie burden is ‘not onerous’, he must at least show ‘ “actions taken by the employer from which one can infer, if such actions remain unexplained, that it is more likely than not that such actions were ‘based on a [prohibited] discriminatory criterion … .’ … .” …’ ” (Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 354–355 [100 Cal.Rptr.2d 352, 8 P.3d 1089], internal citations omitted.)

“If, at trial, the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, a presumption of discrimination arises. This presumption, though ‘rebuttable,’ is ‘legally mandatory.’ Thus, in a trial, ‘[i]f the trier of fact believes the plaintiff’s evidence, and if the employer is silent in the face of the presumption, the court must enter judgment for the plaintiff because no issue of fact remains in the case.’ [¶] Accordingly, at this trial stage, the burden shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption by producing admissible evidence, sufficient to ‘raise[] a genuine issue of fact’ and to ‘justify a judgment for the [employer],’ that its action was taken for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. [¶] If the employer sustains this burden, the presumption of discrimination disappears. The plaintiff must then have the opportunity to attack the employer’s proffered reasons as pretexts for discrimination, or to offer any other evidence of discriminatory motive. In an appropriate case, evidence of dishonest reasons, considered together with the elements of the prima facie case, may permit a finding of prohibited bias. The ultimate burden of persuasion on the issue of actual discrimination remains with the plaintiff.” (Guzsupra, 24 Cal.4th at pp. 355–356, internal citations omitted.)

“The trial court decides the first two stages of the McDonnell Douglas test as questions of law. If the plaintiff and defendant satisfy their respective burdens, the presumption of discrimination disappears and the question whether the defendant unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff is submitted to the jury to decide whether it believes the defendant’s or the plaintiff’s explanation.” (Swanson v. Morongo Unified School Dist. (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 954, 965 [181 Cal.Rptr.3d 553].)

“To succeed on a disparate treatment claim at trial, the plaintiff has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, to wit, a set of circumstances that, if unexplained, permit an inference that it is more likely than not the employer intentionally treated the employee less favorably than others on prohibited grounds. Based on the inherent difficulties of showing intentional discrimination, courts have generally adopted a multifactor test to determine if a plaintiff was subject to disparate treatment. The plaintiff must generally show that: he or she was a member of a protected class; was qualified for the position he sought; suffered an adverse employment action, and there were circumstances suggesting that the employer acted with a discriminatory motive. [¶] On a defense motion for summary judgment against a disparate treatment claim, the defendant must show either that one of these elements cannot be established or that there were one or more legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons underlying the adverse employment action.” (Jones v. Department of Corrections (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 1367, 1379 [62 Cal.Rptr.3d 200], internal citations omitted.)

“Although ‘[t]he specific elements of a prima facie case may vary depending on the particular facts,’ the plaintiff in a failure-to-hire case ‘[g]enerally … must provide evidence that (1) he [or she] was a member of a protected class, (2) he [or she] was qualified for the position he [or she] sought … , (3) he [or she] suffered an adverse employment action, such as … denial of an available job, and (4) some other circumstance suggests discriminatory motive,’ such as that the position remained open and the employer continued to solicit applications for it.” (Abed, supra, 23 Cal.App.5th at p. 736.)

“Although we recognize that in most cases, a plaintiff who did not apply for a position will be unable to prove a claim of discriminatory failure to hire, a job application is not an element of the claim.” (Abed, supra, 23 Cal.App.5th at p. 740, original italics.)

“Employers who lie about the existence of open positions are not immune from liability under the FEHA simply because they are effective in keeping protected persons from applying.” (Abed, supra, 23 Cal.App.5th at p. 741.)

“[Defendant] still could shift the burden to [plaintiff] by presenting admissible evidence showing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her. ‘It is the employer’s honest belief in the stated reasons for firing an employee and not the objective truth or falsity of the underlying facts that is at issue in a discrimination case.’ … ‘[I]f nondiscriminatory, [the employer’s] true reasons need not necessarily have been wise or correct. … While the objective soundness of an employer’s proffered reasons supports their credibility … , the ultimate issue is simply whether the employer acted with a motive to discriminate illegally. Thus, “legitimate” reasons … in this context are reasons that are facially unrelated to prohibited bias, and which, if true, would thus preclude a finding of discrimination. …’ ” (Wills v. Superior Court (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 143, 170–171 [125 Cal.Rptr.3d 1], original italics, internal citations omitted.)

“The burden therefore shifted to [plaintiff] to present evidence showing the [defendant] engaged in intentional discrimination. To meet her burden, [plaintiff] had to present evidence showing (1) the [defendant]’s stated reason for not renewing her contract was untrue or pretextual; (2) the [defendant] acted with a discriminatory animus in not renewing her contract; or (3) a combination of the two.” (Swanson, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at p. 966.)

“Evidence that an employer’s proffered reasons were pretextual does not necessarily establish that the employer intentionally discriminated: ‘ “ ‘[I]t is not enough … to disbelieve the employer; the factfinder must believe the plaintiff’s explanation of intentional discrimination.’ ” ’ However, evidence of pretext is important: ‘ “[A] plaintiff’s prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer’s asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated.” ’ ” (Diego v. City of Los Angeles (2017) 15 Cal.App.5th 338, 350–351 [223 Cal.Rptr.3d 173], internal citations omitted.)

“While a complainant need not prove that [discriminatory] animus was the sole motivation behind a challenged action, he must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there was a ‘causal connection’ between the employee’s protected status and the adverse employment decision.” (Mixon, supra, 192 Cal.App.3d at p. 1319.)

“Requiring the plaintiff to show that discrimination was a substantial motivating factor, rather than simply a motivating factor, more effectively ensures that liability will not be imposed based on evidence of mere thoughts or passing statements unrelated to the disputed employment decision. At the same time, … proof that discrimination was a substantial factor in an employment decision triggers the deterrent purpose of the FEHA and thus exposes the employer to liability, even if other factors would have led the employer to make the same decision at the time.” (Harrissupra, 56 Cal.4th at p. 232, original italics.)

“We do not suggest that discrimination must be alone sufficient to bring about an employment decision in order to constitute a substantial motivating factor. But it is important to recognize that discrimination can be serious, consequential, and even by itself determinative of an employment decision without also being a “but for” cause.” (Harrissupra, 56 Cal.4th at p. 229.)

“In cases involving a comparison of the plaintiff’s qualifications and those of the successful candidate, we must assume that a reasonable juror who might disagree with the employer’s decision, but would find the question close, would not usually infer discrimination on the basis of a comparison of qualifications alone. In a close case, a reasonable juror would usually assume that the employer is more capable of assessing the significance of small differences in the qualifications of the candidates, or that the employer simply made a judgment call. [Citation.] But this does not mean that a reasonable juror would in every case defer to the employer’s assessment. If that were so, no job discrimination case could ever go to trial. If a factfinder can conclude that a reasonable employer would have found the plaintiff to be significantly better qualified for the job, but this employer did not, the factfinder can legitimately infer that the employer consciously selected a less-qualified candidate—something that employers do not usually do, unless some other strong consideration, such as discrimination, enters into the picture.” (Reeves v. MV Transportation, Inc. (2010) 186 Cal.App.4th 666, 674–675 [111 Cal.Rptr.3d 896], original italics.)

“While not all cases hold that ‘the disparity in candidates’ qualifications “must be so apparent as to jump off the page and slap us in the face to support a finding of pretext” ’ the precedents do consistently require that the disparity be substantial to support an inference of discrimination.” (Reevessupra, 186 Cal.App.4th at p. 675, internal citation omitted.)

“[Defendant] contends that a trial court must assess the relative strength and nature of the evidence presented on summary judgment in determining if the plaintiff has ‘created only a weak issue of fact.’ However, [defendant] overlooks that a review of all of the evidence is essential to that assessment. The stray remarks doctrine, as advocated by [defendant], goes further. It allows a court to weigh and assess the remarks in isolation, and to disregard the potentially damaging nature of discriminatory remarks simply because they are made by ‘nondecisionmakers, or [made] by decisionmakers unrelated to the decisional process.’ [Defendant] also argues that ambiguous remarks are stray, irrelevant, prejudicial, and inadmissible. However, ‘the task of disambiguating ambiguous utterances is for trial, not for summary judgment.’ Determining the weight of discriminatory or ambiguous remarks is a role reserved for the jury. The stray remarks doctrine allows the trial court to remove this role from the jury.” (Reid v. Google, Inc. (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512, 540–541 [113 Cal.Rptr.3d 327, 235 P.3d 988], internal citations omitted; see also Gov. Code, § 12923(c) [Legislature affirms the decision in Reid v. Google, Inc. in its rejection of the “stray remarks doctrine”].)

“[D]iscriminatory remarks can be relevant in determining whether intentional discrimination occurred: ‘Although stray remarks may not have strong probative value when viewed in isolation, they may corroborate direct evidence of discrimination or gain significance in conjunction with other circumstantial evidence. Certainly, who made the comments, when they were made in relation to the adverse employment decision, and in what context they were made are all factors that should be considered.” (Husman v. Toyota Motor Credit Corp. (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 1168, 1190–1191 [220 Cal.Rptr.3d 42].)

“Discrimination on the basis of an employee’s foreign accent is a sufficient basis for finding national origin discrimination.” (Galvan v. Dameron Hospital Assn. (2019) 37 Cal.App.5th 549, 562 [250 Cal.Rptr.3d 16].)

“Because of the similarity between state and federal employment discrimination laws, California courts look to pertinent federal precedent when applying our own statutes.” (Guz, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 354.)

“We have held ‘that, in a civil action under the FEHA, all relief generally available in noncontractual actions … may be obtained.’ This includes injunctive relief.” (Aguilar v. Avis Rent A Car System, Inc. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 121, 132 [87 Cal.Rptr.2d 132, 980 P.2d 846], internal citations omitted.)

“The FEHA does not itself authorize punitive damages. It is, however, settled that California’s punitive damages statute, Civil Code section 3294, applies to actions brought under the FEHA … .” (Weeks v. Baker & McKenzie (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1147–1148 [74 Cal.Rptr.2d 510], internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

8 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Constitutional Law, §§ 1143–1147
Chin et al., California Practice Guide: Employment Litigation, Ch. 7-A, Title VII And The California Fair Employment And Housing Act, ¶¶ 7:194, 7:200–7:201, 7:356, 7:391–7:392 (The Rutter Group)
1 Wrongful Employment Termination Practice (Cont.Ed.Bar 2d ed.) Discrimination Claims, §§ 2.44–2.82
3 Wilcox, California Employment Law, Ch. 43, Civil Actions Under Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, § 43.01 (Matthew Bender)
11 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 115, Civil Rights: Employment Discrimination, § 115.23[2] (Matthew Bender)
California Civil Practice: Employment Litigation, §§ 2:2, 2:20 (Thomson Reuters)