Our law firm receives dozens of inquiries a week from current and former employees who suffered some form of discrimination at the hands of their employer, supervisor, co-worker, or vendor. As unbelievable and depressing as that sounds, it is the truth – many people still face discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and retaliation in the workplace. Oftentimes on a regular basis. They almost always have brought it to their supervisor or Human Resources Department attention, with little to no action in response.
As a result, they turn to our law firm to start – what they believe to be – the next step in the process – filing a lawsuit. However, in reality, hiring an attorney may not be the necessary consequence of an unresponsive – or intentionally belligerent response – employer, supervisor, or Human Resources Department. Rather, the next step is actually something that you may be able to take on your own, saving you thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars along the way.
That would be contacting the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Both agencies, DFEH for the state of California and EEOC for the U.S. federal government – are charged with the responsibility of investigating and making findings concerning all forms of discrimination. DFEH and EEOC pool resources, so that the DFEH process explained below is almost exactly identical to process that EEOC would use. In fact, DFEH and EEOC often share investigation responsibilities in order to keep down expenses.
If you believe you have been the victim of illegal job discrimination or harassment (for example, discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, disability, religion, etc.), the first step in the process is to make an appointment for an interview in one of the DFEH employment offices located throughout the state. If a representative determines the matter falls within the Department’s jurisdiction, you will be sent a “Pre-Complaint Questionnaire” . An interview will be made for you once the questionnaire is returned. You will be interviewed either over the telephone or in-person at one of the DFEH District Offices. A DFEH Investigator will determine if the information presented has the elements such that, if proven, would constitute a violation of the law.
If a complaint is taken, it will be written up and signed by you. The complaint will be sent to your employer along with a request for information that will assist the DFEH Investigator in determining the merits of the case, thus beginning the investigative process. Please find a descriptive flowchart of the DFEH investigative process here. During the investigation process, the DFEH can demand discovery, issue subpoenas, and take depositions. These are items for which are either time-consuming and costly or not possible prior to filing a lawsuit, if undertaken by a private attorney on your behalf.
Ultimately, the DFEH can issue an accusation against your employer and DFEH legal staff may litigate the case in a public hearing before the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), on your behalf and free of charge. However, in the event DFEH does not find actionable discrimination, it does not foreclose the possibility of recovery. Rather, you can still ask for a “Right to Sue” letter from the agency, which will give you the right to bring suit within 1 year of obtaining the notification. In addition, it can be used as evidence in your future lawsuit that you exhausted your administrative remedies before seeking the protection of the Court.