What Happens When You Decide to Pursue an Employment Discrimination Claim?
Both federal law and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibit employment-based discrimination. This can include discrimination in the hiring process as well as discrimination in the workplace. If your employer engages in discrimination, they can be held liable – there are a wide variety of remedies you can pursue:
- Your employer can be required to hire or promote you if you were denied employment or a promotion for discriminatory reasons
- Your employer can be required to reinstate you if you were fired for discriminatory reasons
- Your employer can be required to pay you any lost wages and benefits, including back pay and front pay
- Your employer can be required to pay damages for your emotional distress
- Your employer can be required to pay punitive damages if the discrimination was willful or malicious
- Your employer can be required to pay your legal fees and court costs
- Your employer can be required to take measures to prevent future discrimination
To obtain these remedies, however, you must pursue a legal claim. In most contexts, this means filing a lawsuit with the appropriate court. In the context of an employment discrimination claim, however, the process is significantly more complex. If you believe that you have been discriminated against, the best thing you can do to protect your rights is to contact an employment discrimination attorney.
Step One: Review Your Employee Manual
In pursuing legal action against your employer, one of the things that you will need to prove is that they knew or should have known about the discrimination. Otherwise, your employer cannot be held liable.
Strictly speaking, this step is more about positioning yourself to pursue a claim than the process itself. And it obviously does not apply if you were denied employment for discriminatory reasons. However, if you are or were an employee of the organization that discriminated against you, review your employee manual. It hopefully contains a discrimination policy that explains the procedure for making a discrimination complaint. If you do not have an employee manual or your employer does not have a discrimination policy, you should discuss your issue with HR and follow any instructions they may have. By filing your complaint and documenting the discrimination with your employer, you will be able to prove later that they were aware of the discrimination and failed to address it.
In some cases, filing a complaint with your employer can be a very delicate and uncomfortable situation – you may be worried about getting fired or making an already difficult situation even worse. If you are unsure how to best proceed, an employment discrimination attorney can give you some advice and help you take whatever steps you need to protect your claim.
Step Two: File a Complaint with DFEH or EEOC
Assuming that the discrimination remains unresolved and you have suffered some adverse action (either termination, being passed over for promotion, or some other negative outcome), your next step is to file your complaint with either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You cannot file a lawsuit until you have pursued an administrative claim with either of these agencies.
The EEOC and the DFEH both handle discrimination claims, but there are many reasons why you might choose one over the other. In many cases, you may be required to file with the DFEH rather than the EEOC. Some of the factors why you would file your complaint with one agency rather than the other include the following:
- EEOC only handles complaints involving employers with 15 or more employees, whereas DFEH handles complaints involving employers with 5 or more employees
- You have one year to file from the date of the discriminatory incident to file a complaint with DFEH but only 300 days to file with EEOC
- DFEH handles types of discrimination claims that the EEOC does not, such as discrimination involving gender identity, veteran status, and political affiliation.
The process will vary slightly depending on which agency with which you file the complaint. In general, the agency will begin an investigation concerning your complaint. From there, one of two things will happen:
- The agency will begin its own enforcement action; or
- The agency will issue you a “right to sue” letter.
It is difficult to explain why the agency may decide to pursue its own enforcement action in one case but not another as there are many different factors that go into that decision. Do not be discouraged if they choose not to pursue an enforcement action in your case. If they issue a “right to sue” letter, it means that they have found sufficient evidence to support a claim and that you can proceed with a lawsuit in civil court immediately.
This is a very basic overview of the administrative process. There may be other steps along the way such as mediation. If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace and need to take action, an employment discrimination attorney can help you navigate the process.
Step Three: File Your Lawsuit in the Appropriate Court
Once you have exhausted the administrative process, the only thing left to do is file your lawsuit. While the administrative process is somewhat pro se friendly (meaning that it is less difficult to represent yourself), filing a lawsuit should not be attempted without a lawyer. Even procedural mistakes such as missing a deadline can jeopardize your claim. It is very difficult for non-lawyers to succeed in court, even in cases where the discrimination is obvious. If you have received a “right to sue letter,” you should contact an employment discrimination attorney for help in filing your lawsuit.
Contact Attorneys for Employees Today
If you are facing employment-related discrimination, the sooner you get the help you need, the better your chance of a successful outcome. At Attorneys for Employees, we have extensive experience in helping employees find a way forward after suffering the harms of discriminatory treatment. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your claim and how we can help.