Filing a Charge of Discrimination

Recently, you feel as though you have been discriminated against at work. You are being treated differently than the rest of the staff in relation to your job duties and you think they are trying to force you to quit. This all started about 8 months ago when you told your employer that you need an accommodation for a medical condition. Instead of accommodating you, your employer cut your hours and imposed tedious tasks upon you that no one else was asked to perform. You were also denied use of basic tool required to perform these tasks efficiently. You complained to your supervisor’s boss who said this would be addressed, but nothing has changed and you are developing severe emotional distress.

There is not much time to waste. In California, an employee must file a timely charge of discrimination to protect the right to sue in court. Most people are familiar with or have at least heard of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.). The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The State of California, however, has its own agency, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which enforces California’s state specific anti-discrimination laws.


When there is a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws, an employee is normally required to file a charge of discrimination within 180 days from the date of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. The DFEH, on the other hand, as of January 1, 2020, increased the time in which an employee is required to file a charge of discrimination from 1 to within 3 years of the violation when state laws are applicable. If you did not file within the 1 year timeline prior to January 1, 2020, your claim is not revived by the new statute of limitations. Because we have dual-enforcement agencies in California, the time to file a claim with the EEOC is extended to 300 days.

As an added benefit, the DFEH and EEOC have a work-sharing agreement which translates into your charge being cross-filed with the other agency regardless of where you filed. You will get a right to sue from both agencies, merits of your claim aside.

Things to Remember

  • Complaining internally and waiting for your company to investigate and resolve your complaint does not stop the clock from running.
  • The DFEH must complete its investigation within a year while the EEOC has a backlog that may prevent your case from being investigated for several years. If the investigatory results are important to you, this time lag could have an important effect on your decision.
  • The DFEH does not have a local office in San Diego anymore due to budget cuts, which means you can only file online, or by mail but you can also skip the investigation and request an immediate right to sue.
  • The EEOC has a local office but there is usually quite a wait to get an appointment.
  • While your claims are being investigated by either the EEOC or the DFEH, the statute of limitations for other claims not subject to agency enforcement, are not tolled. Practically speaking, this means you could be prohibited from bringing all of your meritorious claims in court.

The time limits for filing a charge and ultimately a lawsuit are complex. Various factors may change the filing deadline including multiple discriminatory events and ongoing harassment. The important take-away is that the success of your claims relies on a properly and timely filed administrative charge. Consulting with an attorney will save you a lot of time in the long run and the attorney can make sure that your complaint is thorough and on point.