If you have been discriminated against or harassed at work, one of the first steps you should take is notifying your employer by talking to your boss, Human Resources department, or both. Employers have a legal obligation to put an end to discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but they have to be aware that it is happening first. Consult your employee handbook and follow the proper protocol to formally notify your employer of the harassment or discrimination that you are experiencing.
Although employers are supposed to immediately begin investigating your complaint and taking action to resolve the issue, many fail to do so. If your boss or Human Resources representative does not take your complaint seriously, you may lose hope that you will ever get the justice you deserve. But, don’t let this discourage you. There are other steps that you can take to defend your rights when your employer fails to help.
Filing A Claim With the DFEH Or EEOC
If you are employed in California, you have the option of filing a claim with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The EEOC is a federal agency, while the DFEH is a California state agency. Federal discrimination laws do not cover employers with fewer than 15 employees, but the state law covers any employer that has five or more employees. Therefore, if your employer has between 5-14 employees, you will need to file with the DFEH. But, if your employer has more than 15 employees, you can file with either the EEOC or DFEH. You will only need to file a claim with one agency since they cooperate with each other on discrimination and harassment claims.
Both agencies follow a similar process when handling discrimination and harassment complaints. After you have filed a claim, your employer will receive a copy of it so they can review and respond to your allegations. Both the DFEH and EEOC encourage parties to try to resolve the dispute in mediation, but this is not always possible. If your case cannot be resolved in mediation, the agency will launch an investigation to determine if your complaints are true and your employer violated the state or federal law.
Both agencies have the authority to interview witnesses and issue subpoenas during the investigation if needed. Investigations can be rather lengthy, so be patient as you wait to hear back about the outcome. Once the agency has reviewed all evidence related to your claim, they will determine whether your employer violated state or federal law. If no violation is discovered during the course of the investigation, the agency will issue you a notice of right to sue document, which gives you the green light to move forward with a civil lawsuit on your own. If a violation is discovered, your case will be passed along to the agency’s legal department. The legal department will attempt to reach a settlement with your employer in dispute resolution, but if this is not possible, they may choose to file a lawsuit on your behalf.
Discrimination and harassment victims may be able to recover compensation from their employers either through a settlement or trial verdict. The amount and type of compensation that you receive will vary on a case-by-case basis. You may be able to recover compensation for your lost wages and future lost wages if the discrimination or harassment affected your ability to earn income. For example, if you were illegally fired or passed over for a promotion, you may be able to recover this type of compensation. It’s also possible that you will be able to recover compensation for your emotional pain and suffering. This is often awarded to victims when the discrimination or harassment has damaged their reputation or caused them a great deal of psychological trauma.
In cases where the employer acted with “malice or reckless indifference,” the court may also award punitive damages to the victim. Finally, because it can take a significant amount of time to resolve this type of issue, the court may also order your employer to pay your attorneys’ fees.
Things to Consider
There are a few important things to note about this process. First, you may be eager to take your employer to court after being ignored by your boss or HR representative, but you must file a claim with either the DFEH or EEOC first. You cannot pursue legal action on your own until you have received a notice of right to sue from one of these agencies. In most cases, the EEOC and DFEH will not issue this notice until they have concluded their investigation. However, you may be able to skip the investigation if you choose to file with the DFEH. The DFEH offers victims the option of filing for an immediate notice of right to sue claim. This is only recommended if you are being represented by an employment law attorney who can handle your case without help from the DFEH.
Another thing to consider throughout this process is the timing. If you are filing with the DFEH, you have one year from the last act of discrimination or harassment to file a claim. However, if you choose to file with the EEOC, you have 300 days to file a claim. It’s important to seek legal representation as soon as possible so you don’t lose your opportunity to file a claim by missing these deadlines.
If you have been discriminated against or harassed by your employer and your complaints are not being taken seriously, protect your rights by contacting Shegerian & Associates today. You can schedule a free consultation with our team of knowledgeable attorneys by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED or visiting us online.