If you believe you have faced discrimination in the workplace, or if you have been the victim of sexual harassment, you may be thinking about filing a complaint. You may have looked into your options, and you may have realized that many employment discrimination claims can be filed under either California state law or federal law. For example, if your discrimination claim involves sexual harassment, both federal and state laws protect against sexual harassment in the workplace through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is a federal law, and through the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which is a California state law. Other federal and state laws also exist to prohibit discrimination in the workplace and may be applicable to your case.
Where should you file your claim? To answer that question, it is important to understand the process for filing a discrimination claim.
Can I Choose Between Filing My Claim Under Federal or California State Law?
To file a discrimination claim, it is important to understand that you do not begin by filing a lawsuit. Instead, whether you choose to file your claim under federal or state law, you will need to exhaust the administrative remedies that are available to you. What is “exhaustion” when it comes to the law? This is an administrative law term that means you need to take your claim all the way through an administrative process before you can file a lawsuit. In many cases, the administrative process resolves the claim, and there is no need to file a lawsuit.
If you file your discrimination claim under federal law, the administrative body that you must file through is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you file your discrimination claim under federal law, the administrative body that you must file through is the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which is the California agency tasked with enforcing state civil rights law.
Generally speaking, if your claim can be filed under either federal or state law, you can choose where to file. However, state law claims tend to go more quickly and may have other benefits, as well.
Understanding the Differences Between the EEOC and the DFEH
Even if it looks like you can file your claim under federal or state law, it is important to understand that there are key distinctions between the EEOC and the DFEH, and the specific terms of the laws they enforce.
As we mentioned, California law tends to have broader protections for employees than does federal law. Under both state and federal law, employers are prohibited from discrimination on the basis of age, disability, genetic information, national origin, sex, pregnancy, race, color, and religion. The FEHA also provides protection against discrimination on the basis of, for instance, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. As such, you may be more likely to succeed by filing your claim under state law, but an experienced California employment discrimination lawyer can discuss your options with you.
You Have Protection Against Retaliation Under Federal and State Law
Whether you file a federal or state discrimination claim, you are protected against retaliation in the workplace. If an employer does retaliate—takes any adverse action against you because you file a complaint—you should speak with your lawyers immediately.
Contact a California Employment Discrimination Attorney
Do you have questions about filing an employment discrimination claim in California? An experienced California employment discrimination attorney can speak with you today. Contact Minnis & Smallets LLP for more information.