Complaint Process

When someone files a discrimination complaint, DFEH evaluates the facts and decides whether to accept the case for investigation. If it accepts the case, DFEH independently investigates the facts and the legal issues. This involves reviewing respondents’ responses to complaints and other information and evidence that complainants and respondents submit, among other things. DFEH attempts to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases. DFEH may also decide to take legal action.


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File a Complaint

The First Steps:

If you feel you were the victim of discrimination, DFEH is available to investigate and help settle your complaint. To begin this process contact DFEH and file an intake form.

In employment cases, you must do this within three years of the date you were harmed. In most other cases, you must do this within one year of the date you were harmed. In employment cases only, you must obtain from DFEH a Right-to-Sue notice before filing your own lawsuit in court. If you would prefer not to use the DFEH investigation process and instead file your own lawsuit, you can obtain an immediate Right-To-Sue notice.

If you decide to use the DFEH investigation process, you will need the following:

  • The specific facts and any records about the incident(s), including the name and contact information of the person or entity you believe harmed you (if known);
  • Copies of any documents or other evidence related to your complaint; and
  • The names and contact information of any witnesses (if known).

Once this information has been gathered, the intake form can be filed in three ways:

DFEH will evaluate the allegations in the intake form and decide whether the laws that DFEH enforces cover these allegations.

Understand that DFEH can only investigate violations of certain civil rights laws. While many people believe they were treated unfairly, DFEH can only accept cases if one of the laws it enforces may have been violated. If your complaint is not 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 violate the civil rights laws that DFEH enforces.

If these laws cover your allegations, 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).

In most cases, the filing of a complaint does not mean that DFEH has already determined whether there is reasonable cause to believe any laws have been violated. Instead, it means that DFEH has preliminarily determined that the laws that the department enforces cover the complaint’s parties and allegations.

The Next Steps:

Although DFEH may provide legal services and advice for complainants who are seeking relief for alleged civil rights violations, the department independently investigates and assesses the facts and legal issues in each case. These investigations and assessments include, among other things, reviewing information and evidence from complainants, respondents, or other sources. When a respondent answers a complaint, DFEH reviews it with the complainant.

As appropriate or required by law, DFEH attempts to resolve complaints through the free dispute resolution services that that DFEH offers to parties.

Unless a complaint has already been resolved, DFEH uses the facts obtained through its investigation to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that a law the department enforces has been violated. If not, the case is closed. If there is reasonable cause, DFEH notifies the parties of this determination and may notify them that the department intends to file a lawsuit in court.

But before DFEH files a lawsuit, it typically requires the parties to go to mediation. This mediation provides another opportunity to reach an agreement to resolve the dispute. If the case is not settled during this mediation, DFEH may proceed with filing its lawsuit in a court.

General Complaint Flowchart (PDF)

Employment Complaint Flowchart (PDF)

Intake Interview Materials

In order for DFEH to prepare a complaint and initiate an investigation, you will need to provide specific dates when you believed you were harmed. Depending on the facts of your case, you may have the following documents that we recommend you bring to your scheduled intake interview with a DFEH representative.

  • Employment

    • W-2
    • 1099
    • Witness names and contact information
    • Documents such as: termination letters, written reprimands, memorandums, transfer notices, e-mails, text messages, screen shots, police reports, grievances or any other tangible documentation of your allegations of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation
    • Medical documentation in cases involving disability, pregnancy disability and the California Family Rights Act
  • Housing

    • Lease/rental agreement
    • Lease violations
    • Rules/policies pertaining to property in question
    • Eviction notices
    • Advertisement
    • Link of advertisement
    • Name/contact information for Host
    • Court documents, such as those from an unlawful detainer action or temporary restraining order
  • Disability-related claims

    • Documents showing a request for reasonable accommodation or modification
      (emails/letters/text messages)
    • Documents showing a denial of a reasonable accommodation or modification
      (emails/letters/text messages)
    • Relevant medical documentation supporting the request for a reasonable accommodation or modification

Respond to a Complaint

You can respond to a complaint two ways:

  • Via US mail. Send your response to: 2218 Kausen Drive, Suite 100, Elk Grove, CA 95758.
  • Using our online California Civil Rights System (CCRS).

    • Create an account on the Cal Civil Rights System for yourself. All you need is a valid email address and a phone number.
    • Once you have an account, call 800-884-1684. Our staff will associate your account with the complaint.
    • Log into your CCRS account. You will see the DFEH complaint number. Click on the file button and select the files you wish to upload.

    If you are served with a complaint, it is only after DFEH has screened the information provided to ensure the allegations are with DFEH jurisdiction. DFEH screens all initial claims and rejects those that do not allege violations of the laws we enforce.. In most cases, the filing of a complaint does not mean that DFEH has already determined whether there is reasonable cause to believe a civil rights law has been violated. Rather, it means that DFEH has preliminarily determined that the laws that the department enforces cover the complaint’s parties and allegations. We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases. DFEH considers taking legal action if the dispute is not resolved and evidence supports a reasonable cause determination.

    If you are served with a complaint, you must provide a response within the time specified by DFEH in the letter accompanying the complaint. 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.
    • When parties can’t resolve a complaint, DFEH continues an investigation to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that a civil rights law has been violated. If not, the case is closed.
    • If DFEH makes a reasonable cause determination, the parties are typically 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 the case is not resolved in a mediation, 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 (money) for emotional distress
  • Civil penalties and punitive damages (money)

Accessibility Information

DFEH provides assistance to anyone who needs help accessing and understanding our information. Please contact us to arrange an accommodation if you have a disability or need translation into your native language.

Check Complaint Status

You can check the status of your pending complaint:

  • Online

    • If you already have an online account in our California Civil Rights System (CCRS), simply click on your DFEH case number.
    • If you do not have an online account yet, it’s easy! To create an account, all you need is a valid email address and phone number. Once you create your account, and log in, you will see a list of the cases you have with DFEH. Click on the case you would like information on.
  • By phone or email

    • Call the staff member handling your case. If you have lost that information, or need other help regarding a specific matter, contact us.

Appealing a Complaint Decision

General information

If a party is dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation, and the case has not been settled or accepted by DFEH to file a lawsuit in court, that party may appeal DFEH’s closure of the case. The first step in filing an appeal with DFEH is to review the closure letter you received. The closure letter will state that you have ten (10) calendar days from receipt of the closure letter to submit an appeal, and will provide instructions on what the appeal should contain. It is important that your appeal clearly state what specifically you would like reviewed during the appeal. For example, if DFEH was unable to interview all of your witnesses or gather certain evidence, your appeal should identify the name of the witness and provide their contact information or specify the evidence that you believe was overlooked. Or, if you believe that DFEH misapplied the law, your appeal should describe what you understand the law to be.

An appeal is not an opportunity to re-do an investigation. Therefore, you should try to provide all relevant information during the investigation.

The closure letter will direct you to submit your appeal to one of the following:

  • The investigator’s supervisor (the closure letter will contain the supervisor’s contact information); or
  • The Appeals Unit

    • By mail

      Department of Fair Employment and Housing
      Attention: Appeals Unit
      2218 Kausen Drive, Suite 100
      Elk Grove, CA 95758

    • By phone

      Call our Communication Center at (800) 884-1684, (800) 700-2320 (TTY) or California’s Relay Service at 711

    • By email

      Appeals@dfeh.ca.gov

      It is very important that you follow the instructions in the closure letter to ensure that you file your appeal in a timely manner to the correct person or unit.

What to expect

Once you submit your appeal to the appropriate person or unit, you can expect the following:

  • You submitted your appeal to the investigator’s supervisor

    • The supervisor will respond to your appeal via letter informing you of the reasons for upholding the closure or contact you to inform you that your case will be reopened.
  • You submitted your appeal to the Appeals Unit

    • The Appeals Unit will send you a letter informing you the appeal has been either accepted for review or rejected.
    • If you receive a letter informing you the appeal was accepted for review, no further action is needed. Once an appeal reviewer has had an opportunity to review your casefile and appeal, they will contact you if more information is needed to decide your appeal.
    • Appeals are processed by the Appeals Unit in the order they are received. The Appeals Unit does not have a deadline by which to decide an appeal. However, the Appeals Unit processes appeals as quickly as possible without sacrificing the quality of its work. (For additional information please refer to CCR §10033 and CCR §10065).
  • Things to keep in mind

    • Once your case is closed and you have filed an appeal with the Appeals Unit, you are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney to explore your legal options. You are encouraged to not wait until the appeal process is over to decide if you will file a civil lawsuit. Remember, there is a statutory time limit by which you must file a civil lawsuit in court; this statutory time limit is set forth in your closure letter.
    • The appeal process may not toll (or pause) the statutory time limit by which you must file a civil lawsuit in court.

Check on the status of your appeal

To check the status of your pending appeal, contact the person or unit you submitted your appeal to. Be sure to include your assigned DFEH case number on all correspondence.

Frequently Used Terms

Here are the definitions of some of the words and phrases used frequently at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing:

  • Complainant

    • The Individual filing a complaint.
  • Respondent

    • The person who must respond to a complaint.
  • Protected characteristics / category / basis / class

    • The characteristics that employers, housing providers, businesses, state-funded programs, and others may not discriminate based on, including disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.
  • Disability

    • A physical or mental condition that limits a major life activity.
  • Intake Form

    • What someone needs to submit to DFEH before he/she may file a complaint.
  • Right-to-sue

    • The option some complainants have to pursue private legal action.
  • California Civil Rights System, CCRS

    • The cloud-based application allows members of the public and their representatives to submit complaints online 24/7 for all of the civil rights laws DFEH enforces. In addition to submitting intake forms, individuals can schedule appointments, view the status of their cases, submit notes to DFEH, request right-to-sue notices for court filing, submit public records act requests, submit appeals, or withdraw cases, all online.
    • If you previously had an account in Houdini, please contact ITSupport@dfeh.ca.gov and provide us with your email address so we can enable your access to CCRS. You will receive a password reset email within 24 hours.
The precise legal definitions of these words and phrases are found in the Laws and Regulations that govern DFEH. In all cases, those prevail.

FAQ

Am I allowed to contact the DFEH investigator to get more information about the complaint?

Yes. Do not hesitate to contact the assigned investigator to discuss the complaint. If the file contains additional non-confidential information about the allegations that are not shown on the official complaint, the investigator verbally may share this information with the respondent.

What does DFEH look for in an employer’s position statement?

DFEH seeks a response to all the allegations in the complaint, along with the production of documents and identification of witnesses with information that is relevant to the complaint. This information will assist the department in assessing the complaint’s claims and allegations. It is in the Respondent’s interest to provide an effective position statement that focuses on the facts. An effective response is clear, concise, and complete. It should explain the Respondent’s version of the facts and specifically identify relevant specific documents, evidence, and witnesses. This will can help DFEH accelerate the investigation and tailor its requests for additional information.

An employee filed a DFEH complaint only after being disciplined. Can I still fire the employee?

Firing an employee for filing a complaint with DFEH is illegal retaliation. If you disciplined an employee for violating a company policy or for poor performance, without any intention of firing the employee, you will be in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) if you discharge the employee for filing a complaint.

Can I file a complaint against my employee?

As an employer, you cannot file an employment discrimination complaint with DFEH against an employee. DFEH investigates only complaints filed by individuals who believe they have been the victim of unlawful discrimination in violation of the FEHA. However, if an employee refuses or threatens to refuse to comply with the FEHA, you can file a complaint with DFEH asking for assistance through mediation or other remedial action.

Does DFEH share investigative records with the parties?

DFEH does not share investigative records of open case files Once a case is closed, parties may request copies of the file. The information DFEH releases is governed by the Public Records Act and relevant privileges.

How long does DFEH retain investigative records?

DFEH retains records for three years after a case is closed.


Communication Center: 800-884-1684 (voice), 800-700-2320 (TTY) or
California's Relay Service at 711 | contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov