Faces of DFEH

Read real-life stories about how DFEH is protecting and enforcing the civil rights of all Californians.



Discrimination Based on Race – Hairstyles

James Dickens

What was your experience that led you to seek out help from DFEH?

I went into a job interview, seeking employment. At the time I was working weekends. Part time. And I needed full time work. I was offered the new position in person and had to quit my current part time job. I informed my current manager that I was leaving the part time position to take this fulltime job. The following day I received an email from my future employer stating that I would have to cut my hair to accept the new position. My hair was tied back, neatly out of my face, and it was not mentioned in person when I was offered the position. However, the hiring manager said that it was “company policy” and referred me to the company policy book that stated that my hair could not be a certain length. My hair did not surpass that length. I decided to reject their proposal to cut my hair to take that position.

How did that experience affect you?

It affected me mentally and financially as I was now unemployed. Also, I feel that corporations in general want African American employees to look a certain way that is not natural. My qualifications were enough to get me the job, but my hair still said that I was too Black for them, is my guess.

What do you want people to take away from your experience?

I want people to know you do NOT have to change yourself and succumb to another’s unfair policy just to get a check. Know your worth and know the law.

What do you want people to know about discrimination?

That it is very real and can happen to anyone because racism and discrimination are taught and learned. It is not a natural feeling. The world is full of discrimination and people will look for any reason to put others down, to lift themselves up.

How was your experience with the DFEH?

My mother told me about DFEH. It was a great experience, very timely. The process was a lot faster than I had anticipated, especially for the location I am in. I’m sure the DFEH has thousands of cases. So, for them to seek what’s right for me at no cost to me, reminds that there are genuine people who want to help others. That’s what the world needs, people that genuinely want to help others. By the way, I got a new job and didn’t have to cut off my hair.

Criminal History in Employment

Andres T.

What was your experience that led you to seek out help from DFEH?

I was incarcerated nearly a decade ago. It was a time in my life that I regret and to any person that I caused pain to, I profusely apologize. One year ago, I graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree. I had completed my probation, and was ready to put the past behind me. I had heard about a position that was hiring several people out of college to work at a multinational company via a contracting agency. I applied. The first few interviews flew by and finally a job offer was extended to me. My recruiter had mentioned that there was a background check involved, and I had explained my situation. The crime occurred 8-9 years ago, I had graduated from college, I was out of trouble, and the job responsibilities had nothing to do with that crime. My background check came back with something on it, but my crime was not listed. I explained myself to my recruiter as soon as I could. And then there was no further contact from him. I reached out a week later, two weeks later, a month later, until I got the hint. Yet, the firm kept posting the same position that I was denied. Two months after I had applied for the position, I filed a complaint with DFEH.

How did that experience affect you?

Most people say after you have been released from incarceration that you have a new lease on life. What they forget to tell you is that it comes with several caveats. Companies still deny a person employment because of their past misdeeds, even when the job does not call for it. From this experience, I found the necessary tools and people who were willing to help me file for an expungement. As of October 2018, my crimes were expunged. This experience with being denied employment made me see the importance of having tangible paperwork.

What do you want people to take away from your experience?

Be persistent, vigilant, and be loud. A quiet person seldom makes waves and can be trampled on. In the moment, it may seem that a decision is final, but we should never accept that this is all there is. This experience has made me realize that you must keep fighting with words and dogged determination. Rehabilitation, not punishment, is what we need more of.

What do you want people to know about discrimination based on criminal background?

California is one of the most progressive states in the Union, but discrimination is rampant, even in our modern world. One must constantly be on the watch for it. As far as discrimination as far as crimes are concerned, people who have committed certain crimes should not do certain jobs. But people also need to show that they can change, that they can grow, regardless of their circumstances. To say otherwise, is to deny the human experience.

How was your experience with the DFEH?

In short, wonderful. My case worker never gave up on me and she never looked down on me because I was convicted of a crime. She is emblematic of what the DFEH stands for. It was a slow process, and I honestly did not expect much out of it. I could not see that a year from when I first filed with the DFEH I would be where I am. I would not have thought that I would be sitting in my office, getting a steady paycheck every Friday, and going home to an apartment with my girlfriend and two dogs. And all this from a guy who was in jail, got out, finished a degree and expunged his record. Because I got angry enough, because I filed with the DFEH, and because they cared enough, I am here.

Discrimination Based on Disability

Morgan Balentine and Alexander Zeek

What was your experience that led you to seek out help from DFEH?

My partner and I were looking for a place to live in San Francisco. We heard from a friend, about a lovely cottage in the neighborhood, that an elderly woman wanted to rent to someone local. Alexander got her phone number, called her and she met with him and showed him the cottage. She said she had just put in new floors, which meant no pets. He liked the place and she agreed to rent to us. Later Alexander called her and told her that I had a support animal, a cat named Penny, to help with my anxiety. He told her I had a doctor’s letter explaining my situation. She got very angry and said I told you no pets. Alex said I had anxiety issues and needed the cat. She said she didn’t want someone like that living on her property. When he called and told me what she said, I told him that it was against the law and to call her back and tell her to send us the rental application. When we never received the application, we called her and she said she wasn’t going to send us the application because of the cat and she hung up.

How did that experience affect you?

I was very upset because I knew I was being discriminated against for something that I couldn’t help. I started doing some research and found this organization called HELP, which sent out a tester with a story similar to mine and she refused to rent to them. HELP sent the case to DFEH. The whole experience was an emotional roller coaster as DFEH lawyers went back and forth with her lawyer. A few days before court, she agreed to a settlement, and admitted her wrongdoing, but as we were leaving she said she wasn’t going to pay anything. It took two years after the settlement before she finally paid us.

What do you want people to take away from your experience?

Persistence. I learned the importance of persistence. At times we thought that it wasn’t worth the time and effort, let alone the stress. But it was worth it because justice was served and I hope she learned from what ended up being an expensive lesson.

What do you want people to know about discrimination based on disability?

It’s a horrible thing to be discriminated against. Most people are discriminated against because of something that they can’t help. It is an awful feeling. People need to educate themselves on their rights as tenants. A lot of people would not have questioned someone simply because she was the landlord.

How was your experience with the DFEH?

The DFEH attorneys were with us every step of the way, wisely advising us. I felt they had our best interests at heart and were there to make sure that what was done to us was made right. They felt that it was important that the landlord faced consequences for her illegal actions.

Discrimination Based on National Origin, Age, and Disability

Teresa Munguia

Teresa Munguia was a happy and successful cook for seven years. Everything changed when her new supervisor made derogatory statements about her age, national origin, and physical abilities, fired her, and replaced her with a young white man. Munguia felt humiliated, confused, and betrayed.

What happened to you at work that made you file a complaint with DFEH?

We got a new supervisor who looked down on me. She made negative comments about Latinos and tried to make me feel bad for being me. She made comments about my weight and physical ability to do the job. She mistreated me, scrutinized me, and tried to make me look bad in the kitchen. In the end, she terminated me and replaced me with a younger white man. She also fired the other Latinas in the kitchen.

How did your employer’s treatment affect you?

The experience made me feel terrible. I always had been a joyful person, but I totally changed after they fired me. I lost my energy, felt tremendous sadness, and secluded myself. I had trouble experiencing joy and did not want to move. It was very hard on me.

How was your experience with the DFEH?

DFEH was a pleasant surprise for me. DFEH treated me very well. The lawyer was attentive, treated me with respect, and made me feel protected. DFEH helped me see there can be justice and you can hold people accountable. This made me feel better emotionally. If people knew these services exist, I believe they would feel more comfortable speaking up against injustices.

What do you want people to know about discrimination based on national origin, age, or disability?

We do not have to withstand so much humiliation from people who feel superior to us. We are all the same and we have to stand up for ourselves. With DFEH’s help, we can do it. I hope others know DFEH is a resource for them if they need help.

Discrimination Based on Religion

Khadija Osman

When Khadija Osman applied for a job as a cashier, she asked the interviewers if she could wear a scarf and clothing that are a part of her religious observance. Her prospective employers questioned and objected to her attire, eventually rejecting her bid for a new job. She knew she had rights, but she didn’t know what to do about it until friends told her about an organization that would fight for her rights.

What was your experience that led you to seek out help from DFEH?

I went to an interview for a cashier job at Wing Stop in Paradise. I thought the interview was going well with two managers. They were asking questions and I was giving good answers – I had experience as a cashier. I asked if I could work wearing my scarf. The manager said I could not work with my scarf because it was corporate policy and it was a safety hazard. I told her that I didn’t wear the scarf for fashion, it is my religious belief. She said she would ask corporate and get back to me. A day or two later, she called me back and told me that I could wear a turtle neck shirt and wear a head wrap, but not the scarf. I also asked if I could wear a long denim skirt because I was not allowed to wear jeans. She argued that there were other women who wore scarfs and jeans. I told her I could wear a jean skirt and a shirt that was the corporate color. She said my religion had a lot of restrictions and she would get back to me, but she never did.

How did that experience affect you?

I was really upset. My family came here as refugees escaping a dangerous life when I was five months old. I have worn the scarf for most of my life and I have applied to many jobs. This was the first time I encountered this type of rejection. I was really hurt by it. I had heard of others being discriminated against, but I had never experienced it until then. I knew it was my right to wear it and that the company was wrong, but I didn’t know that there was something that I could do. I shared a post on my Facebook because I felt so rejected. My friends told me about CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). They said don’t just stay quiet. I called CAIR and they told me it was unlawful discrimination. Honestly I just wanted the job. I just wanted them to accommodate me.

What do you want people to take away from your experience?

I want people to know that as an individual you are not helpless and that there are organizations that can help you. You can do something to stop discrimination. Change starts with one person. In order for change to happen you’ve got to use your voice and speak up about it. I thought I didn’t have a voice, but I did have a voice.

What do you want people to know about discrimination based on religion?

I want people to know that they should reach out and seek help if they are being discriminated against because of their religious practices. There is a system in place to help you. But if you just stay quiet, there will be no solutions.

How was your experience with the DFEH?

CAIR directed me to DFEH. The DFEH staff understood the situation and they believed me. They weren’t afraid of going up against a big company or franchise. They were willing to fight for me.


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