Your employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of unlawful harassment and discrimination. Harassment is an unlawful form of discrimination when it is motivated by the victim’s membership in a legally protected class: gender, race or ethnicity, color, religion, creed, national origin, alien or citizenship status, age, disability, sexual orientation or marital status.
Abusive behavior or “bullying” in the workplace may be unconnected to a protected class but can also nevertheless make working conditions unacceptable. Many employers have anti-bullying policies. In extreme cases, the abuse may be so egregious that it triggers legal protections.
The Guild stands ready to be your adviser and advocate if you face unlawful discrimination, harassment, or bullying in the workplace.
1. What is the Guild's position on discrimination, harassment, or bullying?
The WGAW supports a zero tolerance policy for any form of workplace discrimination, including discrimination and harassment based on gender, race or ethnicity, color, religion, creed, national origin, citizenship status, age, disability, sexual orientation, or marital status.
2. Can the Guild help me if I have questions about discrimination, harassment or bullying or wish to file a complaint?
Yes. If you wish to bring a discrimination, harassment or bullying claim, or if you merely wish to have a confidential discussion with an experienced Guild representative about your situation, including if you’d like a representative to accompany you to file a complaint, please call Latifah Salom at (323) 782-4521, or email Latifah Salom.
The Guild can also assist you if your employer wishes to interview you regarding allegations of discrimination, harassment or bullying. The question of whether you need or have a right to representation during such an interview depends on the facts of the case. But we urge you to call the Guild before you submit to the interview if you have any questions or concerns. You will be provided with access to someone who can assist you.
3. What constitutes unlawful discrimination and harassment?
- Discrimination is defined as the unfavorable treatment of a person on account of his/her membership in a protected class in connection with any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits, etc. Discrimination can occur in two ways:
- Disparate Treatment – Intentional discrimination by an employer because of a person’s membership in a protected class.
- Disparate Impact – An employment policy or practice that appears on its face to be neutral or non-discriminatory, but has a disproportionately adverse impact on people of a particular protected class.
- Harassment – Actionable harassment against persons in a protected class can include slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks, or the display of offensive symbols directed at a particular group or class. Harassment is illegal when: (a) it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment; or (b) it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
4. What laws prohibit discrimination and harassment?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is the federal law that prohibits discrimination and harassment. In California, discrimination and harassment is also prohibited under the state discrimination statute, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Each statute creates an administrative agency with investigative and enforcement authority. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) administers FEHA.
- Who is covered?
California law prohibits discrimination and harassment with respect to a broad range of individuals in the workplace, including employees, job applicants, unpaid interns or non-employees providing services under a contract. These provisions apply to all employers regardless of size, as well as to labor unions and talent agencies.
The coverage of Title VII is somewhat narrower, applying generally to employees and job applicants of employers having 15 or more employees.
- What remedies are available under the discrimination laws?
Legal remedies for discrimination and harassment include compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress, punitive damages, reinstatement or promotion, and injunctions (i.e., court orders) requiring changes in the policies or practices of the employer.
- Are there time limits for filing claims?
The statute of limitations under California law is one year from the last act of discrimination or harassment. The statute of limitations under Title VII is 180 days, which in California is extended to 300 days. The statute of limitations stops running when the employee files a complaint with the relevant administrative agency—either the EEOC or the DFEH. The filing of an administrative complaint is a relatively simple task that can be accomplished online or by phone, without the assistance of an attorney.
- Can an employer punish someone for complaining about unlawful discrimination and harassment?
Both federal and state law broadly prohibit an employer from retaliating against any person (whether or not an employee) for making a discrimination or harassment complaint, assisting another person in making a complaint, testifying or otherwise participating in a discrimination or harassment investigation. The statutes prohibit all forms of retaliation, from threats and negative performance reviews to termination or non-renewal of employment. Retaliation is a separate violation, even if the underlying complaint is disproved or found to lack merit.
5. What are an employer’s obligations under discrimination and harassment laws?
An employer has the obligation to provide a workplace free of unlawful discrimination and harassment, and to take appropriate remedial action if it becomes aware of violations. The following rules apply to employers in carrying out this obligation:
- An employer is strictly responsible for the actions of company owners and agents, including supervisors.
- An employer may be responsible for the actions of non-supervisory employees or even non-employees (such as customers or visitors in the workplace) if it had reason to be aware of the conduct but failed to take steps to prevent it.
- An employer has an affirmative duty to investigate unlawful discrimination or harassment if it has reason to believe it has occurred, even in the absence of a formal complaint.
6. Do discrimination and harassment violate the Guild’s collective bargaining agreements?
Yes. Article 38 of the Writers Guild Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement (MBA) is a broad anti-discrimination provision: “[t]he parties to this Basic Agreement agree that, to the extent provided by applicable federal and state statutes only, there shall be no discrimination due to sex, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity, color, creed, national origin or disability.” There is a caveat, however. MBA Article 38(G) excludes discrimination claims (including harassment claims) from the MBA’s grievance and arbitration procedure, so any enforcement action would have to be brought in court.
The WGA-CBS Staff News Writer Agreement contains a similar no discrimination provision.
7. What about bullying? Is it illegal?
While there isn’t a state or federal law specifically addressing bullying, many studios have policies against abusive behavior that make violations subject to discipline up to and including termination. In rare cases, severe abuse inflicting physical or emotional harm could support legal claims of battery or intentional infliction of emotional distress or even a temporary restraining order.
The Guild can assist you if you’d like to make a bullying complaint with your employer or if you would like to have a confidential discussion with an experienced Guild representative about your situation, including if you’d like a representative to accompany you to file a complaint, please call Latifah Salom at (323) 782-4521, or email Latifah Salom.
Additional Guild Resources
In 2020, the WGAW’s Inclusion and Equity Department released its third report containing detailed data on the status of writers from historically underrepresented groups and calling attention to the lack of inclusion and equity in the entertainment industry. You can read the 2020 Inclusion and Equity report here.
In January 2018, the WGAW Board of Directors appointed a 15-member Inclusion and Equity Group (IEG) co-chaired by Shonda Rhimes and Glen Mazzara. The IEG’s mission is to educate industry professionals and promote hiring practices that will create an entertainment industry that directly reflects this nation’s diverse voices. To further this mission, the IEG has worked closely with the Guild’s Inclusion and Equity Department to offer unconscious bias trainings, which provide members and showrunners with tools to adjust automatic patterns of thinking, and ultimately eliminate discriminatory behaviors.
In 2017, the WGAW Board of Directors formed a sexual harassment subcommittee. Here is information on sexual harassment.
If you are a member who falls within a protected class, we also encourage you to join the following WGAW committees, which are staffed by the Inclusion and Equity Department.
Asian American Writers Committee
Career Longevity Committee
Committee of Black Writers
Committee of Women Writers
Latino Writers Committee
LGBTQ+ Writers Committee
Native American & Indigenous Writers Committee
Writers With Disabilities Committee