The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or DFEH, is a government agency operated by the state of California. The purpose of the California DFEH is to protect residents from unlawful discrimination involving employment, public accommodations, and housing. Additionally, the DFEH addresses crimes such as hate crimes and human trafficking.

The California DFEH is primarily concerned with overseeing and addressing discrimination complaints. When a person files a complaint with the Department, the DFEH determines whether to accept the case. From there, the DFEH investigates the claim and attempts to resolve the issue through its established procedures while adhering to both state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

If the DFEH is unable to resolve the discriminatory matter on its own, they may instead take legal action against the offending party. Additionally, the Department has the authority to enforce various laws, as well as mediate and resolve disputes related to civil rights issues. This authority is granted to the DFEH through California’s civil rights laws. The Department also provides training on relevant materials to businesses, employers, and housing groups.

As part of their mission to “protect the people of California from unlawful discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations, and from hate violence and human trafficking,” the DFEH enforces the following civil rights laws that are specific to California:

  • California Family Rights Act;
  • Fair Employment and Housing Act;
  • New Parent Leave Act;
  • Unruh Civil Rights Act;
  • Ralph Civil Rights Act;
  • Civil Code Section 51.9;
  • Disabled Persons Act;
  • California Trafficking Victims Protection Act; and
  • Government Code Section 11135 Et Seq.

What Is the Difference Between the EEOC And the DFEH?

The causes of action that are brought by the DFEH are very similar to those of the EEOC. However, the two are not the same and do have some notable differences. To put it simply, the DFEH requirements for employees that are working for smaller businesses could be considered less strict when compared to those enforced by the EEOC. Additionally, the DFEH is a state agency.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is a federal agency. The Commission specifically administers and enforces civil rights laws in terms of workplace discrimination. Another difference would be that, unlike the DFEH, the EEOC also enforces the Equal Pay Act. This Act prohibits wage disparity based on an employee’s sex or gender identity. Additionally, the EEOC enforces the “Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” which prohibits employment discrimination based on age, while the DFEH does not. 

Another difference between the two that is worth noting that the DFEH does cover workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation, which is different than their assigned sex at birth or gender identity. This is in opposition to the EEOC which provides no such protections.

It is important to note that the DFEH does not act as an advocate for plaintiffs. Rather, they should be thought of as a neutral fact-finding investigative body. However, as the largest state civil rights agency in the United States, the Department will help you enforce your civil rights.

How Do I File a California Employment Claim With the DFEH?

Some examples of specific legal issues and disputes that the DFEH may address include:

  • Sexual harassment;
  • Employment retaliation;
  • Intimidation and hate crimes;
  • Human trafficking; 
  • Denial of FMLA leave;
  • Discriminatory acts committed by businesses services, including hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and the like; 
  • Failure to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled people; and
  • Failure to provide required private or public access to disabled people.

If you are employed in California and have experienced one of these issues, you should consider filing with the DFEH. You should not be afraid to do so, as it is illegal for employers to fire workers in retaliation for filing a complaint with the DFEH or the EEOC. This infraction is included in the above list.

In order to file a claim with the DFEH, you should begin by gathering and collecting anything that may support your claim. This can include:

  • Documents;
  • Physical evidence;
  • Witness statements; and/or
  • Forms, such as incidence reports.

The next step would be to submit your complaint, along with any relevant documentation and evidence, to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This is done by filling out the intake form which is located on DFEH website.

After you have completed the intake form, the DFEH will respond to your claim. They may initiate an investigation into your claim. Generally speaking, the DFEH investigation timeline must be concluded within one year of receiving the filed complaint.

Alternatively, you could initiate your claim by filing with the EEOC. Because the DFEH and EEOC have a work-sharing agreement in which both the DFEH and EEOC have jurisdiction over workplace discrimination claims, you could file your claim with either agency. The agency that you file with will determine who will investigate your claim; meaning, either they will investigate your claim, or they will pass it on to the other agency that you did not file with. To further clarify, you may file with either agency, but there is no need to file with both due to the fact that they will share the information with one another.

What if the DFEH Does Not Resolve My Claim?

If the DFEH complaint process does not sufficiently resolve your claim, you may instead file your own civil lawsuit for employment discrimination by obtaining a right-to-sue notice. The same would be true if you prefer not to use DFEH to investigate and potentially file a claim on your behalf.

A right-to-sue notice is required to file a civil lawsuit against your employer, and is granted by the DFEH as well as the EEOC. Failure to obtain a right-to-sue before initiating a private lawsuit will result in the court dismissing your claim, because it shows that you failed to exhaust all administrative remedies prior to filing.

Generally speaking, filing with the DFEH is more cost effective than filing a private lawsuit. This is because they will initiate a claim on your behalf, meaning you do not have to pay for the costs associated with doing so. If the Department decides in your favor, they may require your employer to pay a damages award to you. 

Such a damages award is intended to reimburse you for any losses that you experienced as a result of their discriminatory behavior. They may also require the employer to change their workplace policies in order to prevent similar issues arising in the future.

Some other examples of remedies include, but may not be limited to:

  • Access to a specific job opening;
  • Reimbursement of out of pocket expenses;
  • The employer being required to train its employees or update its anti-discrimination policies; and
  • The installment of reasonable accommodations or access when the injured party is disabled.

As previously mentioned, if you are unhappy with the remedies that are provided through your claim with the DFEH, you may proceed with filing a civil lawsuit against your employer. Additionally, there are certain instances in which you may appeal your case with the DFEH.

Do I Need a Lawyer when Filing an Employment Claim with the California DFEH?

If you are considering filing an employment claim with the California DFEH, you may consider hiring a California discrimination lawyer. Although it is possible to pursue a DFEH claim on your own, the process can quickly become complicated and overwhelming. 

A local attorney can ensure you are following all required steps in the process, and will help you meet all necessary deadlines. Further, should you need to file a civil lawsuit after the DFEH investigation, your attorney will be able to initiate the civil lawsuit and represent you in court, as needed.