Racial Discrimination Law as Applied in California


Area of Law: 

Because of California’s strict racial discrimination laws, residents of the state enjoy some of the fairest workplaces in the country.  Racial discrimination happens less and less in California, but that does not mean that cases of discriminatory behavior in the workplace never occur.  This is exactly why the laws are in place, however - to help people who have suffered from racial discrimination rectify the situation and get the compensation they deserve. 



If you feel you have been the victim of a racially motivated discrimination incident, California law allows you several avenues of recourse.  You are able to sue your employer for damages and any back pay you may be owed, but first you need to file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).  Both of these associations can give you the necessary paperwork to get your case started (called a "right to sue" letter).  While it used to take quite a bit of time and effort to get the paperwork in order, these days the system is computerized and you can even choose to file charges online.



If you are unsure as to whether you should file your complaint with the EEOC or the DFEH, you should speak to an attorney who will be able to advise you as to which avenue would be best for your particular case.  The EEOC handles cases at the federal level, whereas the DFEH is a state-run agency that handles cases filed at the state level.  California has comprehensive state laws regarding racial discrimination in the workplace, so even though most people turn to the EEOC first when they consider racial discrimination lawsuits, this may not always be the best approach. 



When filing a discrimination complaint, one thing you need to take into consideration is the amount of time that has passed since the incident in question.  Both the EEOC and the DFEH operate under statutes of limitations, meaning that you need to get your complaint filed as soon as possible after the incident occurred or you may find that your claim is invalid.  With the EEOC, the statute of limitations is 180 days after the alleged illegal action, and with the DFEH, there is a slightly more relaxed limit of one year.



These limits may be straightforward if you are dealing with a single discriminatory incident, but what about cases where the discrimination has been ongoing? With these types of cases, there typically is a "final straw" incident that makes you decide that it is necessary to take action.  For the purposes of the EEOC and the DFEH, you may start counting days beginning with the date of the most recent discriminatory incident.