The California Department of Fair Employment of Housing (“DFEH”) is the state-run administrative body charged with enforcing California’s civil rights laws. Their specific mission is “to protect the people of California from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, and publication accommodations, and from hate violence and human trafficking.”

The DFEH handles claims related to employment discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. Specifically, the DFEH is charged with enforcing the following civil rights laws in California:

  • California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”);
  • Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”);
  • New Parent Leave Act (“NPLA”);
  • Unruh Civil Rights Act, which requires business establishments to provide equal accommodations;
  • Ralph Civil Rights Act, which prohibits hate violence or the threat of hate violence;
  • Civil Code Section 51.9, which prohibits sexual harassment in business, service, or professional contexts outside of traditional employment relationships;
  • Disabled Persons Act;
  • California Trafficking Victims Protection Act; and
  • Government Code Section 11135 Et Seq., which prohibits discrimination in state-funded programs.

As a California worker, you have the right to be free from harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace. If you find that you are in a situation where any of your aforementioned rights are being or have been violated you may need to interact with the DFEH.

Although the DFEH is not an advocate for plaintiffs, rather a neutral fact-finding investigative body, they will help you enforce your civil rights, as the largest state civil rights agency in the United States. Generally, the DFEH resolves disputes through a process of dispute resolution, or in some cases, through litigation proceedings.

Are the DFEH and the EEOC the Same?

Although the causes of action brought by the DFEH and EEOC are similar, the two are not the same. In short, the DFEH is more lenient in it’s requirements for employees working for smaller companies. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is a federal agency that specifically administers and enforces civil rights laws regarding workplace discrimination.

Unlike the DFEH, a state agency, the federal EEOC also enforces the Equal Pay Act which prohibits wage disparity based on one’s sex. Further, the EEOC also enforces the “Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” which prohibits discrimination based on age. However, the DFEH does cover workplace discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation, unlike the EEOC.

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

If you feel that your civil rights have been violated in the workplace, you may consider filing a complaint with the DFEH. You should not be concerned about doing so, as it is against the law for employers to fire workers in retaliation for filing a complaint with the DFEH or the EEOC.

In order to initiate a claim with the DFEH, you should begin by compiling any documents, evidence, witness statements, or forms that would support your claim. Next, you should submit your complaint along with any relevant documents to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, by filling out the intake form located on their website.

Next, after filling out the intake form, the DFEH will respond to your claim and may initiate an investigation into your claim. Alternatively, you may also initiate your claim by filing with the EEOC. The DFEH and EEOC have a work-sharing agreement, where both the DFEH and EEOC have jurisdiction over workplace discrimination claims, thus, you may file your claim with either agency, and the agency you file with will determine who will investigate your claim. To clarify, you may file with either agency, but there is no need to file with both as they will share information with one another.

What if the DFEH Does Not Resolve My Claim?

If the DFEH does not resolve your claim, or if you prefer not using the DFEH to investigate and possibly file a claim on your behalf, you may instead initiate your own lawsuit for employment discrimination by obtaining a right-to-sue notice.

A right-to-sue notice is a requirement for initiating your own private lawsuit against your employer, that you may obtain from the DFEH. It is important to obtain a right-to-sue before initiating a private lawsuit, because the court will dismiss your claim for failing to exhaust your administrative remedies if you do not obtain the right-to-sue notice first.

The DFEH is more cost effective than filing a private lawsuit, as they will initiate a claim on your behalf, without you having to pay for the costs of doing so. If the DFEH reaches a favorable decision on your behalf, they may require your employer to pay a damages award to you, as well as reimburse you for any losses.

Additionally, they may require the employer change their workplace policies. If the remedies obtained through your claim with the DFEH are insufficient, you may appeal your case, in some instances. Otherwise, you may proceed to initiate a private lawsuit against your employer.

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

As can be seen, employment law disputes often involve very complicated and techinical legal concepts. Thus, it may be in your best interests to consult with a well-qualified and knowledgeable employment law attorney. An experienced employment law attorney will help you in filing a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, as well as represent you during any formal court or administrative proceedings, if necessary.