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Filing a Discrimination Complaint in California (2018)

Filing Discrimination ComplaintIn California, employees who wish to file a discrimination lawsuit cannot do so until they first file “charges” with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) and obtain “right to sue” letters. This process is called “administrative exhaustion”.
Luckily, the systems are now highly automated and charges can be filled out online at the DFEH‘s website and, as of 11/1/17, at the EEOC‘s website. You can still choose to mail your charge in using the DFEH’s form. And the EEOC permits you to mail in a letter containing the following:

* Your name, address, and telephone number

* The name, address and telephone number of the employer (or employment agency or union) you want to file your charge against

* The number of employees employed there (if known)

* A short description of the events you believe were discriminatory (for example, you were fired, demoted, harassed)

* When the events took place

* Why you believe you were discriminated against (for example, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information)

* Your signature

Typically, people file with the EEOC if they intend to pursue federal employment discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, etc. (No EEOC charge need be filed for medical leave claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or gender pay discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act). People file with the DFEH if they intend to pursue state employment discrimination claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and medical leave claims under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).


California employment laws tend to offer at least the same amount and types of protections as federal employment laws and, in many respects, more powerful protections for the employee. For instance, the California FEHA protect a wider class of disabled people than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and applies to a broader set of employers (employers with more than 5 employees for FEHA versus 15 employees for Title VII). Also, California employment claims are generally not subject to the special employer defenses that exist under federal law. See Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) 490 U.S. 228; Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa (2003) 539 U.S. 90. However, a California court succeeded in introducing these federal employer defenses into California law in Harris v. City of Santa Monica.

Regardless, California laws (and filing with the DFEH) are generally the better way to go for employees.

In any case, the EEOC and DFEH have a “work sharing agreement” under which a charge filed with one is deemed filed with the other.


There are aggressive filing deadlines (which is one reason why you shouldn’t wait too long before consulting with a lawyer). Employees generally must file with the EEOC no later than 180 days after the illegal action occurred. For the DFEH, the deadline is 1 year.

Agency Investigations v. Private Lawsuit

The EEOC/DFEH agency receiving your charge may investigate and prosecute your claims themselves. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and budgets, the process can be drawn out and frustrating, taking a year or more. Even if the agency makes a finding of discrimination, it may still choose not to prosecute the matter in court. In almost all cases, the process is not as effective or efficient as a private lawsuit. To see something analogous to what I’m talking about, read my post, Dept. of Labor Fails to Protect Workers: “We have a crisis in wage theft”.

Traps for the Unwary

It’s amazing how some judges decide to let the EEOC and DFEH charges into evidence against the employee and even throw cases out based on what is contained in (or missing from) the charges. Defense lawyers like to make a big deal in front of the jury out of inconsistencies or contradictions contained in the charges, even though employees often fill them out themselves without the help of a lawyer. This is why it is always better to contact a lawyer BEFORE filling out and filing the charge yourself. Do not underestimate how important the charge can be to your case and how it can be used against you.

Also, keep in mind that different filing procedures and deadlines apply for government employees and for claims regarding whistleblower retaliation and wage and hour claims (overtime, breaks, minimum wage, etc.).

If you are facing legal issues in the workplace, contact a lawyer to discuss it and he can help you navigate the filing traps for the unwary.


  1. jenny on January 31, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    my boss wants to fire me because she thinks im pregant when im not

  2. Frank Avelar on December 25, 2017 at 9:35 am

    I need a you guys asap. I live in Gilroy ca.

    • Eugene Lee on December 26, 2017 at 9:57 am

      Sure please give us a call at 213.992.3299

  3. Moe on November 26, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    I work for a transit company in baldwin park ca. I have been a bus driver going on 4 yrs. I was asked by my boss to become a dispatcher for the company i told him i was computer illiterate but he still insisted that i try out so i did and it was alot to take on but i some what got it. So as a driver there was two black girls in dispatch i truly got along with but the day i walked in to dispatch it was like walking into the devils den they did not communicate with me did not want to teach me or answer any questions i would ask just silence so i compliant to my boss over and over again about how rude they where how unprofessional there words were and how the would call me names and tell people not to speak to me that i was the enemy.At first i did not understand why but then we got a new dispatcher that was related to them and a driver over heard them talking about me saying they was gonna run me out because there relative wanted my AM shift what should be my next step?

    • Eugene Lee on November 27, 2017 at 11:05 pm

      Unfortunately, that doesn’t sound like a legal issue, as you got along with them until you got promoted and came into direct competition with their relative. That sounds like office politics, which is not against the law. I recommend you try to resolve this going through the complaint channels at your employer, as this appears to be a company managerial issue.

  4. Richard A Trujillo on June 14, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    I have a question i work for a company that employs illeagle immegrants an puts them in a leadman position but the thing is your laedman knows no english cant read english and has a crew of 7nonspeaking english and 1 non speaking speaking spanish US citizen then move nonpeaking spanish

  5. Ga on January 24, 2017 at 11:44 am

    So I work in a fine dining steakhouse. I work behind the bar where all my coworkers are Hispanic and bilingual. My bar manager is as well. They constantly converse in Spanish. My manager will also constantly come back and speak Spanish to my coworkers as a whole. I am the only one who doesn’t speak Spanish. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and I also know on one occasion my manager was speaking badly about me in Spanish behind bar to one of my coworkers. Is this legal?

  6. PIR8 on April 11, 2016 at 10:16 am

    My wife applied for a job with a City in California several months ago, that is in the same department where she has worked in a different city in California for almost 10 years. This job would have been a step DOWN in pay and title, but was closer to where we live and in theory had more room for advancement.

    After months of going through their grueling hiring process, they sent a letter stating they wanted to proceed with the hiring process, and she just needed to do the Livescan ™ and pass their background check.

    A month later, another letter arrives stating she failed the background check, without any supporting documents or reasons, even though she requested a copy of anything they found (she’s maybe gotten a traffic ticket before and that’s it)

    They have since pulled the job position, so I am thinking that they used the last piece of the process to choose someone less qualified over her. Is there any recourse?


  7. vincent y ramirez on August 17, 2015 at 8:28 am

    I am 47 bias parties deny job fabricate lies: example SCB 15-1196 foia act how many parties share interest: rude past tentans rental contracts no access: BBB rude: calls, prejudice NSA v CIA 898 F.2d 235 DC: slut demand nerd: DC cir ?? discovery?

  8. Crystal Ramirez on February 16, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing such valuable insight and information. The importance of having your claims filed within the correct amount of time and with the right contentis crucial to success. In many cases a discrimination lawyer in Los Angeles
    could make the difference between winning and losing your case.

  9. Mister Mike on February 8, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    I have missed the deadlines – it has been a little over 2 years since I was fired, with two other older employees. I see some talk that I can sue under the Equal Pay Act for 3 years. I am in California. Is there anything that I can do?

  10. Luis on December 8, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks alot for sharing this blog with updated information.

    Indeed it was useful.

  11. The Pilot on October 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    DISCRIMINATED AGAINST!! When and IF a call back for an interview! Question, ” Do you speak Spanish? ” Answere, No. Born and raised in California! White Male 24, cannot qualify for the position. We are ” THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA !!! ”
    The #1 Language IS ENGLISH!!! WE the People, Proud to be, the U.S.of A.!!! What is wrong with this picture??? California, get smart, Vote and protect your Country, your State. God Bless

  12. Michelle on April 5, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Thanks for this wonderful blog. I liked this information provided by you. Keep sharing such kind of blogs. Compliance and audits are a certain way which assures the best HR practices and metrics are being followed by the organization.

  13. Wayne Morrise on March 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    There are a lot of discrimination complaints you can check out online, different stories and different ways of discrimination I read lots of stories about it. Sad feelings for the discriminated persons.

  14. Reno carpet cleaning on January 6, 2012 at 1:40 am

    I just love the way you work. Thanks for sharing this great and interesting stuff. Fabulous post! I really enjoyed that.

  15. gbnoteversions on November 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Very true is the need to contact a competent lawyer before starting the legal process by filing the complaint.  People are largely unaware of how what they are saying can be perceived and attacked.

  16. Labor Law Office on November 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Hey, you have a great blog here! Excellent information for the reader. I’m definitely going to bookmark you!

    I have a websitesite also it covers California Labor Law related information as well. Come and check it out if you get time

  17. georgefuller on October 20, 2011 at 7:23 am

    I wonder if an employer hurting or maltreating her
    employee, (house maid to be specific) is covered in the services offered by Los Angeles personal injury attorneys
    or in employment and labor law attorney

  18. Advogado Rio de Janeiro on June 26, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    We need to implement something like this here in Brazil!! So interesting post! Tks

  19. Sherman Texas Attorney on May 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    With the difficult economy, I would imagine that claim filings have increased. That could lead to increased processing time.

  20. CA Defense on March 19, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Having the ability to file online must really speed up the process from traditional mailing.

  21. Joe Markowitz on January 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Have you noticed that the processing time for right to sue letters seems to have substantially increased lately?

    Thanks for putting up all this information. It is really useful. And thanks for visiting my site and for all the comments.

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