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I am very sorry to hear that you were up for this promotion and were denied under such questionable circumstances.
As an employment attorney, I am very often presented with stories similar to yours, and what I can say is this: while a claim may very well exist on a purely technical level, from a practical standpoint it would be just about impossible to prove without additional evidence supporting discriminatory motives.
"Didn't get hired" cases are rarely successful because they tend to rely on mere speculation about the reasons for rejection of one's application. As a plaintiff bringing such a claim, you would bear the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that you were not hired because of your age (only 40 and older would entitle you to protection under the law), religion, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation.
Although it is never advisable for an employer to ask the sort of questions that you were asked during a job interview (a big "no no," in fact, from a liability standpoint), merely asking those questions and then rejecting the applicant would almost certainly be insufficient to substantiate a claim.
More evidence would typically be required. Does the employer have a known tendency to discriminate against Catholics, or people above a certain age? Did anyone with hiring authority within the company make derogatory statements about Catholics indicating that someone's application could be rejected on that basis? Is there a lack persons sharing the protected characteristic that you believe was the basis for your rejection working at the company? Any of these things would provide additional evidence (if only circumstantial) that the true basis for rejecting your application was something illegal.
Absent discriminatory motives, employers retain absolute discretion to hire and fire employees as they see fit. As a plaintiff, you would bear the burden of proving that discriminatory motives were at play. Unless you can provide other supporting facts indicating discrimination, merely being asked about your religion, age, or marital status, despite being a hiring "no no" from a liability stand point, typically would be insufficient to substantiate a claim on its own.
If you believe that you have been the subject of unlawful discrimination and wishes to file a lawsuit must first file a formal complaint of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Either the EEOC or the DFEH will issue an authorization to sue after they investigate the claim. A claimant need to file with both agencies. Finally, if an individual in your circumstance decides to sue, they must not miss their deadline. Under federal law in California, a claimant has 300 days from an act of discrimination to file a complaint.
For information on how to bring a claim through California's DFEH, visit this link: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints.htm
For information on how to bring a claim through the EEOC, visit this link: http://www.eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm
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