California's Fair Employment And Housing Act protects employees, but not independent contractors. The real question is when does a so-called contract employee provided by a staffing agency become a common law employee entitled to the same benefits as a company's regular employees. There is no specific federal or state law setting a time limit, but the longer the contract employee works for the employer and the more they are treated like a regular employee, the more likely the contract employee will be entitled to benefits under ERISA. Thus, Microsoft now sets strict time limits for contract employee assignments and requires substantial time to pass before they can be rehired.
You may actually be an employee, but misclassified as an independent contractor. For a summary of the issues relating to misclassification go to:
Employers are prohibited from discriminated against employees because of their religious beliefs under Title VII and the FEHA. Under Government Code §12940, an employer is obligated to accommodate religious holidays unless that request is unreasonable or creates an undue hardship. Based on the facts you provided, it is not possible to determine whether or not you are an employee. Do not let your title as a "contract employee" fool you. You are likely still protected by this law.
I would also suggest exploring your wage and hour issues with a local attorney.
This Avvo answer should not be construed to constitute legal advice nor create an attorney-client relationship between Nathan Reese and any individual reading this answer. The information provided is general only, and you should not act upon this information.
An employer of regular employees can generally deny requests for time off for religious holidays if the reason for the denial is non-discriminatory and if the employee was given reasonable accommodation (i.e., a chance to cover the shift). In particular, if requests for time off on Good Friday were denied to persons of various religions rather than persons who practiced just one particular religion, that would tend to show that there was a business reason rather than a discriminatory reason for the denial.
But independent contractors (if properly classified) are not regular employees. Many temp agencies give IRS Form W2s to their contractors at end of year. This would generally indicate that the contractor is an employee of the agency. There are complicated issues regarding dual-employment.
The terms of employment where the employee is a contract employee rather than a regular employee are generally governed by the contract, but as you have been advised, every sitatuation is fact sensitive and you would do well to find a lawyer to give you a free initial consult.
This answer is not a substitute for legal advice and it does not create an attorney-client relationship. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney before taking any action that may affect your rights