Filing a Discrimination Claim - California

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in California?

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, religious creed, color, age, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition (history of cancer), marital status, sex, or sexual orientation.

Workplace discrimination against people predisposed to a genetic hereditary disease is also illegal, as is testing employees for genetic characteristics.

California law also addresses English-only policies. An employer cannot limit or prohibit employees from using any language in the workplace unless there is a business necessity for the restriction. Also, employees must be notified of the circumstances and times when language is restricted and the consequences of violating the restriction. See language discrimination.

California antidiscrimination law is often written or interpreted more broadly than federal law, especially in the areas of disability discrimination and sexual harassment. Unlike federal law, coworkers who are not supervisors can be sued and held personally responsible for unlawful workplace harassment. State law on disability discrimination differs in several ways from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The state law has: (1) broader definitions of physical disability, mental disability, and medical condition; (2) no requirement for a substantial limitation on a major life activity (a limitation is enough); and (3) limitation is determined without considering mitigating measures.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in California?

In California, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a work-sharing agreement, which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to cross-file the claim with the other agency.

The California anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 5 and 14 employees (or one or more employees for harassment claims), you should file with the DFEH, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees (20 or more employees for age discrimination claims). If your workplace has 15 or more employees (20 or more for age claims), you may file with either agency.

To file a claim with the DFEH, you must first contact the Sacramento headquarters through the toll-free employment discrimination hotline before you can set up an appointment at a district office in person. More information about filing a claim with the DFEH can be found at http://www.dfeh.ca.gov.

Department of Fair Employment and Housing Communication Headquarters
2218 Kausen Drive, Suite 100
Elk Grove, CA 95758
Toll Free: (800) 884-1684
Phone: (916) 227-0551
TDD: (800) 700-2320
Fax: (916) 227-2859

Addresses for DFEH district offices are as follows:

Bakersfield District Office
1001 Tower Way, Suite 250
Bakersfield, CA 93309-1596
Telephone: (661) 395-2729
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (661) 395-2972
TTY: (800) 700-2320
San Diego District Office
1350 Front Street, Suite 3005
San Diego, CA 92101
Telephone: (619) 645-2681
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (619) 645-2683
TTY: (800) 700-2320
Fresno District Office
1320 East Shaw Avenue, Suite 150
Fresno, CA 93710
Telephone: (559) 244-4760
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (559) 244-4819
TTY: (800) 700-2320
San Francisco District Office
1515 Clay Street, Suite 701
Oakland, CA 94612-2512
Telephone: (510) 622-2973
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (510) 622-2952
TTY: (800) 700-2320
Los Angeles District Office
611 West 6th Street, Suite 1500
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Telephone: (213) 439-6799
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (213) 439-6715
TTY: (800) 700-2320
San Jose District Office
111 North Market Street, Suite 810
San Jose, CA 95113-1102
Telephone: (408) 277-1277
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (408) 277-9997
TTY: (800) 700-2320
Oakland District Office
1515 Clay Street, Suite 701
Oakland, CA 94612-2512
Telephone: (510) 622-2941
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (510) 622-2951
TTY: (800) 700-2320
Santa Ana District Office
2101 East 4th Street, Suite 255-B
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Telephone: (714) 558-4266
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (714) 558-6461
TTY: (800) 700-2320
Sacramento District Office
2000 O Street, Suite 120
Sacramento, CA 95814-5212
Telephone: (916) 445-5523
Toll-free: (800) 884-1684
FAX: (916) 323-6092
TTY: (800) 700-2320

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact the nearest EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC - Fresno Local Office
1265 West Shaw Avenue, Suite 103
Fresno, CA 93711
Phone: 559-487-5793
TTY: 559-487-5837

EEOC - Los Angeles District Office
255 E. Temple
4th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: 213-894-1000
TTY: 213-894-1121

EEOC - Oakland Local Office
1301 Clay Street
Suite 1170-N
Oakland, CA 94612-5217
Phone: 510-637-3230
TTY: 510-637-3234
EEOC - San Diego Area Office
401 B Street
Suite 1550
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: 619-557-7235
TTY: 619-557-7232

EEOC - San Francisco District Office
901 Market Street
Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: 415-356-5100
TTY: 415-356-5098

EEOC - San Jose Local Office
96 North 3rd Street
Suite 200
San Jose, CA 95112
Phone: 408-291-7352
TTY: 408-291-7374

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the DFEH or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the DFEH (or cross-file with the EEOC) within one year of the date you believe you were discriminated against, which is extended for 90 additional days if you did not become aware of the discrimination until after the year expired. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. If, however, you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file a discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in California?

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the DFEH or EEOC, you may need to pursue your claim in court.

A federal employment discrimination case cannot be heard in court without first going to the EEOC, as detailed above, and the EEOC dismisses your claim. This process is called exhaustion of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you must file with the DFEH.

Because California law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages which punish the employer), which are capped under federal law, and California state law is more favorable than federal law in many areas, many California attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law only. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court, using state or federal law.

The EEOC must first issue the document known as Dismissal and Notice of Rights or Notice of Right to Sue, (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) You may also request a similar right-to-sue letter from DFEH to proceed to file your California claim. A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within one year of the DFEH dismissal.

These legal deadlines are called the statute of limitations. If you have received one of these agency dismissal notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.