​Unlawful Driver’s License Discrimination

California law forbids several forms of driver’s license discrimination. These include requiring a driver’s license when unnecessary or using the information on a driver’s license to discriminate against an applicant or employee. Anyone who believes they suffered driver’s license discrimination should immediately reach out to an employment lawyer.

Can an Employer Require a Driver’s License?

As a general matter, employers cannot require a driver’s license unless a license is necessary to perform the applicable job duties. In more specific contexts, employers and other businesses that cater to the public cannot discriminate against Californians who hold driver’s licenses but cannot prove citizenship or lawful residence in the United States. They cannot discriminate against applicants or employees whose driver’s licenses accurately reflect their gender identity.

General Prohibition on Driver’s License Discrimination

In general, your employer may not require you to possess or present a valid driver’s license as a condition of employment. Employers may ask for a valid driver’s license if state or federal law otherwise requires one. An employer may have a policy requiring a driver’s license, but only if it applies the policy uniformly and if having a license is related to a legitimate business purpose.

A company cannot request a driver’s license from certain applicants but not others due to reasons not relating to the job duties in question. For example, a company cannot request a driver’s license from applicants with foreign-sounding names during the application stage but forgo the driver’s license requirement for other applicants.

This constitutes driver’s license discrimination and violates California employment laws.

Driver’s License Discrimination as a Form of National Origin Discrimination

Regarding national origin discrimination, Section 12801.9 of the Vehicle Code requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue an original driver’s license to an otherwise qualified applicant – even if the applicant cannot prove their lawful presence in the United States under federal law. The same law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone who “holds or presents” such a license.

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), national origin discrimination includes – but is not limited to – discrimination due to possessing a driver’s license granted under Section 12801.9. If an employer can lawfully require an employee to have a valid driver’s license, the employer cannot refuse to accept a license issued under Section 12801.9 or treat an employee differently because they have such a license.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act prevents businesses open to the public from discriminating against anyone who holds a driver’s license issued under Section 12801.9. The Unruh Act applies to bars, restaurants, hotels, landlords, real estate agents, and many other business establishments. It can violate the Unruh Act for a covered business establishment to refuse service to a person holding a non-citizen driver’s license or even to charge that person a different rate for goods or services.

Driver’s License Discrimination as a Form of Gender Discrimination

Beginning in January 2019, Californians can opt to select an X (instead of an M or an F) as a gender nonbinary marker on their driver’s licenses. It can violate FEHA or the Unruh Act if an employer or public business discriminates against a person who chose to have an X driver’s license. California law broadly forbids discrimination due to gender and gender identity against applicants or employees, including discrimination due to someone’s appearance or what is on their driver’s license.

Further, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee whose gender on their driver’s license does not match their appearance. Discrimination cannot happen due to someone’s gender expression or nonconformity.

Discrimination can be overt and easy to recognize, such as a car rental company refusing to rent a car to a person with an X or Section 12801.9 license. It can also be subtle and difficult to discern, such as where an employer refuses to hire a person who holds one of those licenses for a job where a license is a requirement, even though that person is the best-qualified candidate.

What to Do if You Think You Experienced Driver’s License Discrimination?

If you believe you suffered driver’s license discrimination as a job applicant or employee, you should not wait to discuss what happened with an employment attorney. A lawyer can review your situation and advise whether you have legal rights under state discrimination laws.

Accusing an employer of failing to hire or otherwise discriminating against you due to your driver’s license information or failing to have a driver’s license can start a challenging battle. Employers will not admit to such discrimination, and they will come up with another pretextual reason for the adverse action. Your attorney can gather evidence to challenge this pretext and prove discrimination occurred.

An employment attorney can also identify what legal relief you deserve for your driver’s license discrimination and take steps to obtain this relief for you.

An Experienced Employment Discrimination Attorney Can Help

Whether or not an action is unlawfully discriminatory will depend on the facts and circumstances of a given situation. If you feel you suffered discrimination because of a failure to have a driver’s license or because of what is on your driver’s license, contact an experienced attorney who can advise whether an employer violated your rights.



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