How to File a Charge of Discrimination

    1. What Is A Charge Of Discrimination?

    A charge of discrimination is a signed statement that an employer, union or employment agency has discriminated against you. It asks a federal or state governmental agency to investigate the discrimination that occurred.

    2. Who Should File A Charge of Discrimination?

    If you are an employee or an applicant, and you believe you have been discriminated against at work, you should file a charge of discrimination. If, however, you are an “independent contractor” you may not be able to file a charge of discrimination. See Fact Sheet entitled, “Independent Contractor or Employee? How you should be classified.”

    3. Where Should I File a Charge of Discrimination?

    Where to file a charge of discrimination depends on which law has been violated. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that enforces federal civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. The Department of Fair Housing and Employment (DFEH) is California’s state agency that enforces state civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. The DFEH also investigates housing discrimination, discrimination by businesses, hate violence and human trafficking.

    4. What Types of Discrimination Does the EEOC Investigate?

    The EEOC investigates discrimination on the basis of:
    • Age (40 and up)
    • Disability (including physical and mental disabilities)
    • Equal Compensation
    • Genetic Information
    • Harassment (including sexual harassment)
    • National Origin (including immigration status)
    • Pregnancy
    • Race/Color
    • Religion
    • Retaliation
    • Sex

    5. What Types of Discrimination Does the DFEH Investigate?

    The DFEH investigates discrimination on the basis of: • Age (40 and up) • Ancestry • Disability (including physical and mental disabilities) • Equal Compensation • Gender • Gender Identity • Gender Expression • Genetic Information • Harassment (including sexual harassment) • Marital Status • Medical Condition • Military/Veteran Status • National Origin (including immigration status) • Pregnancy • Race/Color • Religious creed • Retaliation • Sex • Sexual orientation

    6. Why Should I File A Charge of Discrimination?

    In general, you will need to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or the DFEH before you file a lawsuit for discrimination. The exception is if your lawsuit is for equal pay discrimination under federal law.

    7. I Work For A Small Employer. Can I Still File A Charge of Discrimination?

    It depends on how small your employer is. If you are filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, your employer must have at least fifteen workers (or 20 workers for age discrimination). If you file a charge of discrimination with the DFEH, your employer must employ at least five workers. If you are filing a charge of harassment with the DFEH, your employer needs to have only one worker.

    8. What Is The Time Period to File a Charge of Discrimination?

    The time period to file a charge in California is different depending on if you file with the EEOC or the DFEH. You must file your charge within the time period or you will lose your right to sue your employer. EEOC: you must file your charge within 300 days of the last act of discrimination. DFEH: you must file your charge within one year of the last act of discrimination.

    9. How Do I File A Charge of Discrimination?

    First, assess whether you are still within the time limits for filing a charge. If you are still within the time limit, you will first be asked to complete a questionnaire (EEOC) or an intake form (DFEH) at https://ccrs.dfeh.ca.gov/DFEH_Login. Once a questionnaire or intake form is completed, you will be scheduled for an interview. At the interview, you will be asked questions by a staff member who will write your charge. Remember to bring with you any information that will help the staff member understand your case. It is important to tell the staff member about all types of discrimination you believe occurred or you may have problems with your lawsuit later on. For example, if you believe your employer discriminated against you because of your gender and age, you should tell the staff member both of those things.

    10. Can I File With Both the EEOC and the DFEH?

    Yes. When you file a charge with the DFEH, you should ask that the charge be cross-filed with the EEOC. When you file a charge with the EEOC, you should ask that the charge be cross-filed with the DFEH.

    11. What Happens After I File A Charge of Discrimination?

    Investigation After the EEOC and the DFEH receives your charge of discrimination, it is required to provide a copy to your employer.  The EEOC and the DFEH will then investigate your charge and will request your employer to respond to your charge of discrimination. Mediation Both the EEOC and the DFEH have voluntary mediation programs to try and settle your charge of discrimination.  Mediation is where an independent party tries to help you and your employer settle your dispute.  Mediation is only scheduled if both you and your employer agree to participate.  Neither you nor your employer has to pay for mediation. If you do not settle your charge at mediation, your charge will still be investigated by the EEOC or DFEH. The Determination The EEOC or DFEH will decide if it believes discrimination occurred.  At that point, the EEOC or the DFEH can represent you in a lawsuit or, more commonly, you will receive a Right to Sue Letter.

    12. What Happens If I Want to File a Lawsuit?

    You must have a Right to Sue letter before you can file a lawsuit against your employer in court. In general, once the DFEH issues a Right to Sue Letter, you have one year to file a lawsuit. And once the EEOC issues a Right to Sue letter, you have 90 days to file a lawsuit. It is important not to let these time periods pass or you may forever lose your right to file a lawsuit.

    13. What if I Want More Information About the EEOC or DFEH?

    For more information about the EEOC, you can visit www.eeoc.gov or call (800) 669-4000. For more information about the DFEH, you can visit www.dfeh.ca.gov, call (800) 884-1684 or email contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov. Both the EEOC and DFEH websites also contain information about statewide offices that you can visit to ask questions or to submit your intake form or questionnaire.

Disclaimer

This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, Legal Aid at Work cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.