The Importance of Using the EEOC and the DFEH to File Lawsuits or to Resolve Cases

Written by Galen T. Shimoda and Jennet F. Zapata

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH") and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") are government agencies that play a critical role when an employee wants to file a lawsuit because he or she was unlawfully discriminated against. Employees or other individuals who believe they have been unlawfully discriminated based on their race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, among others reasons, must file a claim with the EEOC and/or the DFEH to protect their rights. It is a good practice to file a claim right after a discriminatory act has taken place. In some instances, the time to file a claim with the DFEH and/or the EEOC can be as short as 180 days (approximately 6 months) after the discrimination occurred. Information on these time limits and how to file a claim on-line, in person or by phone in the following web pages:

The DFEH is an agency of the State of California that administers claims for discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination, and hate violence. The EEOC is the federal counter part, but it processes claims that arise out of federal anti-discrimination and harassment laws. The laws administered by the EEOC require that the employers subject to its authority have at least 15 employees. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Many of the laws administered by the DFEH require that the employer have at least five (5) employees, but there are certain exceptions. For instance, for harassment claims, only one employee is needed to be subject to anti-harassment laws. Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. The role of the EEOC is to conduct an investigation, to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding. If the EEOC finds that discrimination has occurred, the EEOC will try to settle the charge. If unsuccessful, the EEOC has the authority to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public. However, they do not file lawsuits in all cases where they find discrimination.

A person may file a complaint online or through the telephone, and, sometimes, in person. Once an initial complaint is filed with the EEOC and/or the DFEH, the agencies may chose to investigate your case. If so, they will conduct an interview with you. They will obtain information from your employer, and they may interview other witnesses. If they believe there is merit in your claim and they have a particular interest in litigating your case, they may represent you in an administrative hearing.

Another alternative is to participate in the EEOC or DFEH resolution mediation program. These resolution programs permit attorneys and non-represented people the ability to try to resolve and settle the case. If both parties are interested in mediating the case, the agencies will assign you to an attorney or other consultant hired by the EEOC and/or the DFEH to try to resolve your case during a day-long or shorter mediation session. This mediation provides an opportunity to resolve the case right there and then. Both attorneys and non-represented complainants can take advantage of the mediation programs. The mediations are also free of charge to the parties. Mediation can be set or take place approximately three months after the charge was filed with the EEOC. The DFEH may assign claims to mediation within a fairly similar time frame.

On the other hand, if an employee or claimant already knows that it wants to file a lawsuit with its own attorney or wants represent him or herself in court, the employee must obtain at "Right to Sue" notice from either the EEOC, the DFEH, or both if the employee is bringing claims under state and federal laws. After the right to sue is provided, an employee or claimant only has a certain amount of time to actually file the lawsuit in court.

If you have any further questions, please contact each of these agencies through the phone or online. The EEOC and DFEH play a very important role in adjudicating unlawful discrimination claims.


The Shimoda Law Corp. legal articles should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents of these articles are intended for general information purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and any specific legal questions you may have.

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