What You Need To Know About Filing An Employment Discrimination Complaint With The DFEH
If you suspect you are the victim of employment discrimination, you will need to file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Why? The reason is an important one. You cannot file a lawsuit for violation of a federal civil rights law like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) without first filing an administrative complaint.
Why You Want to File a Complaint with DFEH
You definitely want to file a complaint with the DFEH to preserve your right to file a lawsuit under the FEHA. This is because the FEHA often gives you more robust protection under California law than federal civil rights laws do. For example, an employer who has five employees or more must follow FEHA’s anti-discrimination laws, whereas employers must have fifteen employees or more for many federal employment discrimination laws to apply.
For some types of discrimination, it is easier to prove an employer’s violation of the law under California’s law because the definition of what constitutes discrimination is broader or a defense is more limited than under federal laws. In addition, there is no cap on noneconomic damages—like pain and suffering and punitive damages—under the FEHA, whereas Title VII has a cap on these damages based on the size of the employer’s workforce.
When you file your complaint with the DFEH, you can ask that the complaint be cross-filed with the EEOC. This is your best strategy because it preserves your right to sue under both California and federal laws.
What Is the Time Period to File an Administrative Complaint?
The time period—or statute of limitations—to file an administrative complaint is different under federal and California law. You must file your complaint within the applicable time period or you cannot file one, and you lose your right to sue your employer. You must meet these time limit requirements:
- File your complaint with DFEH within one year of the last act of discrimination.
- File your complaint with EEOC within 300 days of the last act of discrimination.
How the DFEH Administrative Complaint Process Works
You can file your complaint with DFEH in a number of ways. They include the following:
- Filing a complaint using DFEH’s online system.
- Call the Communication Center at (800) 884-1684 to file a complaint.
- Request a Pre-Complaint Inquiry Form and complete it and mail it back, deliver it to a DFEH office, or e-mail it to a designated email address.
Because of budget constraints and staffing issues, the DFEH does not prosecute all of the legitimate complaints the agency receives. However, it does have a certain time period to investigate the complaint and make a decision. You can expect the following to occur:
- Within 60 days of filing your complaint, an investigator from DFEH will contact you via telephone to conduct an intake interview.
- If the investigator decides to investigate your complaint, he will draft a complaint for you to sign.
- The complaint is sent to your employer and can be dual-filed with the EEOC at this time.
- Your employer must answer the complaint and is given the opportunity to voluntarily resolve your complaint.
The DFEH has the power to issue subpoenas, send out interrogatories—written questions to be answered under oath—and conduct depositions where people must answer questions under oath that are typed into a written document that can be used in court.
Before the DFEH issues a decision, voluntary dispute resolution through the Enforcement Division or mediation by the Dispute Resolution Division is available to the parties at no cost.
If the DFEH makes a merit decision, the parties must engage in mandatory mediation that is free of charge to them. When mediation is not successful, the DFEH could file a lawsuit. If the investigation does not result in a finding of discrimination, the case is closed.
Once the case is closed or it is not investigated within the required time limit, the DFEH will issue a right-to-sue letter. This means that the agency does not intend to pursue your complaint, and you can file a lawsuit against your employer if you want to.
If you need to file a complaint with the DFEH or the EEOC, it is best to do so with the help of an experienced employment discrimination attorney who can file a strong complaint that could help your case later on. Start an online chat or call me at 949-679-9909 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.