Información en Español

Complaint Process

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) maintains the authority to investigate complaints of discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations and hate violence. The following description of the complaint process is intended to help you understand our procedures and assist you through our system. If you believe you are the victim of illegal discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations or hate violence, you may file a Pre-Complaint Inquiry to initiate the complaint process using any of the options below.

Many persons believe they have been treated unfairly or harassed in employment opportunities, in renting or purchasing a home, or in receiving service in a business establishment. The Department can accept cases only based on possible violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the Ralph Civil Rights Act, or the Disabled Persons Act. Should your complaint not be accepted for investigation, it is not because DFEH does not believe you were treated unfairly. Rather it is because your complaint, if proven, would not constitute a violation of the laws enforced by the Department. The laws enforced by the Department are below:


A complainant is the person filing the complaint.  A respondent is the entity or person named in the complaint (employer, landlord, individual harasser, etc.).


  1. File a Pre-Complaint Inquiry online, by phone or by mail. A Pre-Complaint Inquiry can be filed by individuals, the Director of DFEH, or a community organization.
  2. Within 60 days of receipt of the Pre-Complaint Inquiry, an investigator will contact the complainant by telephone to conduct an intake interview.
  3. If a complaint is accepted for investigation, the investigator will draft the complaint and secure the complainant’s or the complainant’s representative signature on the complaint.


  1. The filing date is the date the signed complaint is received by the Department.
  2. The signed complaint is served on the respondent and may be dual-filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if the matter falls within the jurisdiction of that agency. As a substantially equivalent agency, DFEH's findings are usually accepted by EEOC and HUD.
  3. The respondent is required to answer the complaint and is given the opportunity to voluntarily resolve it. A no-fault resolution can be negotiated at any time during the complaint process.
  4. DFEH has the authority to issue subpoenas and interrogatories and to take depositions. The California courts enforce DFEH's discovery efforts.
  5. If the investigation does not show a violation of the law, the DFEH will close the case.

Dispute Resolution

  1. Before the DFEH issues a finding, voluntary dispute resolution through conciliation by the Enforcement Division or mediation by the Dispute Resolution Division are available free of charge to the parties.
  2. After the DFEH issues a merit finding, mandatory dispute resolution is conducted by the Dispute Resolution Division free of charge to the parties.
  3. If dispute resolution fails, the DFEH may pursue litigation.


The DFEH files the complaint in civil court.  The DFEH prosecutes, but the Complainant is the Real Party in Interest. 


  • There is no limit on damages
  • Instead of administrative fines, unlimited punitive damages may be awarded.
  • The prevailing party, including the DFEH, may recover reasonable attorney's fees, expert witness fees and costs.