The Difference between the EEOC and the California DFEH

The EEOC is the Equal Employment Opportunity Council. DFEH is the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The EEO is a federal agency while DFEH is a state agency. Both agencies administer and enforce discrimination laws against employers.

Generally, employees are advised to seek legal counsel if there has been a violation of discrimination laws. There is a fairly standard requirement that employees must proceed though the appropriate federal or state agency (exhaust their administrative remedies) before a lawsuit can be filed. Generally, the employee obtains stronger compensation and better results when a lawsuit is filed in the appropriate civil court than if the EEOC or DFEH files the lawsuit.

There may be cases where the agency may help if many employees are being mistreated – though, even here, a class action lawsuit is often the stronger alternative.

Generally, both the EEOC and DFEH handle harassment and wrongful termination claims in addition to discrimination claims. Normally, the agencies send notices to the employers to start their enforcement actions. Sometimes, these notices can help get the employer to take corrective steps. Often, as mentioned, the best course is to hire a skilled California employment lawyer.

What does the EEOC do?

The EEOC handles discrimination based on an applicant’s or an employee’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy, and transgender status)
  • Age (or older)
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

The law general applies to companies with 15 or more employees (20 in age discrimination matters), labor unions, and employment agencies. The EEOC enforces laws pertaining to:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promotions
  • Harassment
  • Wages and benefits
  • Training

What is the authority of the EEOC?

The EEOC can investigate complaints. If the agency finds that there was discrimination, it tries to settle the complaint. If a settlement can’t be reached, the EEOC can file a lawsuit against the employer to protect the employee and the public. The EEOC also tries to prevent and respond to discrimination, through education and outreach.

The EEOC has 53 field offices throughout the USA including in California.

The EEOC enforces:

What does DFEH do?

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the state agency charged with enforcing California’s civil rights laws. The mission of the DFEH is to protect the people of California from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, businesses, and state-funded programs, and from bias-motivated violence and human trafficking.”

How do the federal and state laws differ?

The EEOC discrimination case is based on Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The DFEH discrimination case is based on the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

FEHA includes many of the types of discrimination covered by Title VII and also:

  • Pregnancy
  • Marital Status
  • Mental and physical disability (though the EEOC enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act)
  • Denial of medical and family care leave

There may be a few other overlapping types of discrimination and distinguishing types of discrimination covered by each agency.

  • The DFEH doesn’t enforce the Equal Pay Act.
  • The EEOC doesn’t enforce discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Both agencies have some exceptions for religious employers

What are the minimum employee number requirements?

DFEH requires that the employer have at least 5 employees to be responsible for employment discrimination. DFEH only requires that the employer have 1 employee to file a harassment complaint.

The EEOC employee requirement numbers are:

Generally, 15 except

  • 20 for ADEA claims
  • 2 for Equal Pay Act claims

What are the deadlines for filing an EEOC or DFEH claim?

An EEOC claim for discrimination/harassment must be filed with 180 days from the date the discrimination occurred. This deadline can be extended if a corresponding state or local agency, such as DFEH, provides for more time. DFEH permits claims to be filed with one year from the discrimination date. Some exceptions may apply. When it comes to deadlines, it’s also best to consult with an experienced California employment lawyer as quickly as possible. Federal employees generally must file an EEOC claim within a much shorter time frame – 45 days. Delay can also hurt your case because memories fade and the position of the employer may harden.

The all-important right to sue letter

As mentioned, the employee must exhaust his/her administrative remedies before being permitted to file a lawsuit – or obtain separate approval to file a lawsuit. The employee should, with the help of legal counsel, ask for the right to sue letter as soon as possible. In many cases, the agencies (both EEOC and DFEH) will take a long time to investigate the claim before they reach any conclusions about how to proceed.

Essentially, rules on right to sue letters are:

  • When an EEOC claim is filed, the employee:
    • Gets a right to sue letter from DFEH immediately
    • Gets a right to sue letter from the EEOC when the investigation is over
  • When a DFEH claim is filed, the employee:
    • Must wait for the DFEH to finish its investigation
  • Must also wait for DFEH to inform the EEOC that they should issue their own right to sue letter

You should consult with an experienced California employment lawyer to fully understand where, when, and how you can file a lawsuit for employment discrimination, harassment, or termination – and where, when, and how you must go through DFEH or the EEOC.

At the California Law Offices of Stephen A. Danz and Associates, we file the right claims in the right places. We prepare your case thoroughly from the start. Our lawyers guide you through each stage of the litigation process so you have a reasonable idea of what to expect. We fight to get you every dollar you deserve. To discuss any type of employment case, call us at 877-789-9707 or use our online contact form to make an appointment. Se habla espanol.