Filing a Discrimination Complaint in California (2023)

Filing Discrimination ComplaintDo you believe you have been the victim of discrimination? To start your claim, you must first file “charges” with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) and obtain “right to sue” letters. This process is called “administrative exhaustion”.
Luckily, the systems are now highly automated and charges can be filled out online at the DFEH‘s website and, as of 11/1/17, at the EEOC‘s website. You can still choose to mail your charge in using the DFEH’s form. And the EEOC permits you to mail in a letter containing the following:

* Your name, address, and telephone number

* The name, address and telephone number of the employer (or employment agency or union) you want to file your charge against

* The number of employees employed there (if known)

* A short description of the events you believe were discriminatory (for example, you were fired, demoted, harassed)

* When the events took place

* Why you believe you were discriminated against (for example, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information)

* Your signature

Typically, people file with the EEOC if they intend to pursue federal employment discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, etc. (No EEOC charge need be filed for medical leave claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or gender pay discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act). People file with the DFEH if they intend to pursue state employment discrimination claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and medical leave claims under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).


California employment laws tend to offer at least the same amount and types of protections as federal employment laws and, in many respects, more powerful protections for the employee. For instance, 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 (employers with more than 5 employees for FEHA versus 15 employees for Title VII). Also, California employment claims are generally not subject to the special employer defenses that exist under federal law. See Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) 490 U.S. 228; Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa (2003) 539 U.S. 90. However, a California court succeeded in introducing these federal employer defenses into California law in Harris v. City of Santa Monica.

Regardless, California laws (and filing with the DFEH) are generally the better way to go for employees.

In any case, the EEOC and DFEH have a “work sharing agreement” under which a charge filed with one is deemed filed with the other.


There are aggressive filing deadlines (which is one reason why you shouldn’t wait too long before consulting with a lawyer). Employees generally must file with the EEOC no later than 180 days after the illegal action occurred. For the DFEH, the deadline is 1 year.

Agency Investigations v. Private Lawsuit

The EEOC/DFEH agency receiving your charge may investigate and prosecute your claims themselves. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and budgets, the process can be drawn out and frustrating, taking a year or more. Even if the agency makes a finding of discrimination, it may still choose not to prosecute the matter in court. In almost all cases, the process is not as effective or efficient as a private lawsuit. To see something analogous to what I’m talking about, read my post, Dept. of Labor Fails to Protect Workers: “We have a crisis in wage theft”.

Traps for the Unwary

It’s amazing how some judges decide to let the EEOC and DFEH charges into evidence against the employee and even throw cases out based on what is contained in (or missing from) the charges. Defense lawyers like to make a big deal in front of the jury out of inconsistencies or contradictions contained in the charges, even though employees often fill them out themselves without the help of a lawyer. This is why it is always better to contact a lawyer BEFORE filling out and filing the charge yourself. Do not underestimate how important the charge can be to your case and how it can be used against you.

Also, keep in mind that different filing procedures and deadlines apply for government employees and for claims regarding whistleblower retaliation and wage and hour claims (overtime, breaks, minimum wage, etc.).

If you are facing legal issues in the workplace, contact a lawyer to discuss it and he can help you navigate the filing traps for the unwary.


  1. Cayla Eddings on November 28, 2023 at 12:12 pm

    I worked for amazon and i feel as i was wronged a few times . I worked for a dsp and my first day they encouraged us not to take a break so we can just get off the clock and go home. They also encourage us to work on lunch breaks. Sometimes you may need to call driver support and they tell you to do so during lunch breaks. One day i was exhausted and took one of my 15 mins breaks and i was accused of time-clock fraud. They dont give you time yo use the restroom although this is a very laborious job withc requires you to stay hydrated. And with hydration comes bathroom breaks.

    Another time my car was stolen. With that my prescription glasses were stolen. I cant see well especially driving at night. I asked for some time off until i can get another pair. He told me no thats their was nothing he could do and that it wasnt his problem. (I have text messages). I complained to Amazon dsp hotline and he suddenly took me of the schedule for 4 weeks without even telling me. He put me back on the schedule without telling me and by the time i seen it j had been absent for 3 days. So he terminated me.

  2. China on November 16, 2023 at 10:40 am

    My sister passed away on March 13, 2023. I communicated with my manager about the days I wanted off for the funeral, but things came up within my family. So I took more days, our pharmacist Angelica Tuason at the time (doesn’t work for the company anymore). I told her I couldn’t come in because my family needed me. I was having a hard time because I couldnt come. Which caused a lot of stress for me to the point where I felt I couldn’t take it anymore. Eventually, I went back to work the following week, still undergoing my emotions, and realized my manager, Lindsay Testado, hadn’t put in for my grief. So I called HR and asked them two weeks later, and they told me my manager never put it in for my grief. Also, I’m complaining about the professionalism of my current Co-workers and the display of bullying and sexual comments they make within the pharmacy. I was also discriminated against because I was the only one getting mistreated; she picked and chose why she wanted to give me hours; it was to the point I was stressing over finances, so I have to get a temporary job, and once I did that she didn’t want to schedule me at all. So I called my union rep, Becca, and she said my manager is trying not to schedule me for two or more weeks, so I can say I’m voluntarily quitting. I’m also a student, and I struggle with my time in school. I had a big project that took some time, and I overestimated the work and had to call it off. And she went off on me and said she was disappointed. Mind you, there is another coworker who’s in school as well, and when she calls off, my pharmacist says okay. I know this because my coworker tells me all the time. My manager/pharmacist didn’t even want to schedule because I chose to do my job and only speak about the job and not have side conversations. She said that she was “concerned” about me. Lastly, I wanted to ask a question to see if a company is supposed to get someone certified within a specific time frame (6 months), and Mrs.Testado is the reason why I don’t have my certification. Am I obligated to get my certification if they provide it?

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