Complaint process

How the complaint process works

When someone files a discrimination complaint, it sets in motion a series of legally required steps that DFEH must follow. It’s important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases. DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

This flow chart illustrates the complaint process

Filing a Complaint

The first steps:

  • If you feel you were the victim of discrimination, in most cases you need to contact DFEH within one year and file a form titled pre-complaint inquiry.
  • Within 60 days you’ll be called by an investigator to go over the details of your situation. S/he will need the following:
    • The specific facts and any records about the incident(s)
    • Copies of any documents that support your complaint
  • DFEH will evaluate the facts and decide whether to accept the case for investigation.
  • If it does, DFEH will prepare a complaint form for your signature. When you return the signed complaint, it will be delivered to the person or entity that you believe discriminated against you (called the respondent).

The next steps:

  • The respondent is required to answer your complaint and DFEH will review the answer with you.
  • DFEH offers free dispute resolution services to encourage parties to resolve the complaint in appropriate cases.  A voluntary resolution can be negotiated at any time during the complaint process.
  • When parties can’t resolve a complaint, the DFEH continues an investigation to determine if a violation of California law occurred. If it didn’t, the case is closed.
  • If DFEH finds there were probable violations of the law, the case moves into DFEH’s Legal Division. At that time, the parties are required to go to mediation. At mediation, the parties have the opportunity to reach an agreement to resolve the dispute and close the case.
  • If mediation fails, DFEH may file a lawsuit in court.

Respond to a complaint

If you are served with a complaint, it is only after DFEH has interviewed the person(s) who filed it and evaluated the information provided. DFEH screens all initial claims and rejects those that do not allege violations of the laws we enforce.

It is important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.  DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

If you are served with a complaint, you must provide a response within 30 days unless granted an extension. You are free to hire or consult with a lawyer, but the process does not require a lawyer.

Here is what to expect after you have responded to the complaint:

  • You may be interviewed by DFEH and/or asked for records and documents
  • DFEH offers free dispute resolution services to encourage parties to resolve the complaint in appropriate cases.  A voluntary resolution can be negotiated at any time during the complaint process.
  • When parties can’t resolve a complaint, the DFEH continues an investigation to determine if a violation of California law occurred. If it didn’t, the case is closed.
  • If DFEH finds there were probable violations of the law, the case moves into DFEH’s Legal Division. At that time, the parties are required to go to mediation.  At mediation, the parties have the opportunity to reach an agreement to resolve the dispute and close the case.
  • If mediation fails, DFEH may file a lawsuit in court.

Here is a link to the full regulations and what resources are available from DFEH.

Possible outcomes

  • Recovery of out-of-pocket losses.
  • An injunction prohibiting the unlawful practice.
  • Access to housing or a job opportunity.
  • Policy changes.
  • Training
  • Reasonable accommodation(s).
  • Damages for emotional distress.
  • Civil penalties or punitive damages.

Get in touch with DFEH

For general information, get in touch with us:

  • Call the Communication Center at (800) 884-1684.
  • If you are deaf or hard of hearing, please call 800-884-1684 or TTY at (800) 700-2320.
  • Email – contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov

Accessibility information

If you need help accessing our information because you have a disability, please contact us to arrange an accommodation:

For a translation

DFEH assists anyone who needs a translation into his or her native language:

Check complaint status

To check the status of your complaint, contact your investigator directly. If you have lost that information, or need other help regarding a specific complaint, please contact us.