If a California employee wishes to file a discrimination lawsuit against an employer, she/he must first file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and obtain what's called a "right to sue" letter. This process is also known as "administrative exhaustion". The systems are now highly automated and charges can be filed online. The EEOC permits you to mail in a letter containing the following information:
- Your name, address, and telephone number
- The name, address and telephone number of the employer (or employment agency or union) you want to file charges against
- The number of employees employed (if known)
- When the events took place
- A short description of the events you believe were discriminatory (ex., you were fired, demoted, harassed)
- Why you believe you were discriminated against (ex., because of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability)
- Your signature
DFEH v. EEOC
California employment laws provide at least the same amount and types of protection as federal employment laws, if not more. For example, 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. FEHA applies to employers with more than 5 employees, whereas federal laws apply to 15 employees. Regardless, know that California laws and in turn filing with the DFEH are generally better for employees. Also, the EEOC and DFEH have what is called a "work sharing agreement" under which a charge filed with one is deemed filed with the other. There are also filing deadlines. Employees generally must file with the DFEH no later than 1 year after the illegal action occurred, for the EEOC, the deadline is 180 days.
In any case, if you have been a victim of wrongful termination or unlawful workplace harassment, you should consult an attorney specialized in employment law.