How To File Discrimination/Harassment Complaint
If you feel you have been discriminated against by your employer, you can file a discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
When someone files a discrimination complaint, it sets in motion a series of legally required steps that DFEH must follow.
It’s important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. DFEH investigates the facts and encourages parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.
DFEH considers taking legal action if the evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.
Step 1 - Submit Pre-complaint Inquiry Form
The submission of this form initiates an intake interview with a DFEH representative to determine whether a formal complaint will be accepted for investigation.
In general, you must submit the pre-complaint inquiry form within one year of the last incident of discrimination and/or harassment.
There are two options for submitting a pre-complaint inquiry form:
Option 1: Submit Online
Use DFEH's online interactive service called Houdini.
Option 2: Submit Printed Form via Email or Certified Mail
Download pre-complaint inquiry form here.
Send via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send via certified mail to DFEH headquarters:
2218 Kausen Drive, Suite 100
Elk Grove, CA 95758
Within 60 days you will be called by an investigator to go over the details of your situation. The investigator will need the following:
The specific facts and any records about the incident(s)
Copies of any documents that support your complaint
The DFEH will then evaluate the facts and decide whether to accept the case for investigation.
If the case accepted for investigation, the DFEH will prepare a complaint form for your signature.
When you return the signed complaint form, it will be delivered to the person or entity that you believe discriminated against you (called the respondent).
The respondent is required to answer your complaint and the DFEH will review the answer with you.
The DFEH offers free dispute resolution services to encourage parties to resolve the complaint in appropriate cases. A voluntary resolution can be negotiated at any time during the complaint process.
When parties cannot resolve a complaint, the DFEH continues an investigation to determine if a violation of California law occurred.
If the DFEH determines that a violation of California did not occur, the case is closed.
If the DFEH finds there were probable violations of the law, the case moves into DFEH’s Legal Division.
At that time, the parties are required to go to mediation.
At mediation, the parties have the opportunity to reach an agreement to resolve the dispute and close the case.
If mediation fails, DFEH may file a lawsuit in court.
Click here to learn more about mediation.
Filing Your Own Lawsuit in Court
You may file your own lawsuit for employment discrimination in court rather than using the DFEH investigation process. This is advisable only if you have an attorney.
You are first required to file a complaint (see steps above) to obtain an immediate right to sue notice.
Important Note: If you receive a right-to-sue notice, your complaint will not be investigated by DFEH even if you later decide not to file a lawsuit.
The law provides for remedies for individuals who experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace. These remedies include:
Recovery of out-of-pocket losses.
An injunction prohibiting the unlawful practice.
Access to housing or a job opportunity.
Damages for emotional distress.
Civil penalties or punitive damages.
Time Limits For Filing A Complaint
Complaints must be filed within one year of the last act of discrimination/harassment.
For victims who are under the age of 18, no later than one year after the victim’s eighteenth birthday.
Understand that DFEH can only investigate violations of the law.
While many people believe they were treated unfairly, DFEH can only accept cases if the law may have been broken.
If your complaint is not accepted for investigation, it is not because DFEH does not believe you were treated unfairly.
Rather it is because your complaint, if proven, would not violate the civil rights laws enforced by the DFEH.