The EEOC, California DFEH, and the Right to Sue

August 12, 2021

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also known as the EEOC, is a federal agency that enforces federal laws against discriminating against a job applicant or employee due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the DFEH, is California’s agency responsible for enforcing state laws that prohibit discrimination.

This overlap between federal and state laws makes it confusing if you wish to sue your employer for discrimination. However, there are notable distinctions between the two laws which could determine the process for suing and the location — state or federal court.


The EEOC covers most employers that have at least 15 employees and 20 employees in the case of age discrimination.

It also covers all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wage, and benefits.

The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination under:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (includes sexual orientation, pregnancy, and transgender status)
  • Age (40 or older)
  • National origin
  • Disability (includes genetic information)
  • The DFEH

The DFEH polices California’s civil rights laws. The grounds of protection under the DFEH are noticeably longer than federal protections and include:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion, creed
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Disability (includes mental and physical)
  • Sex gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military or veteran status
  • Distinctions

Since the EEOC stems from federal law, violations are based on federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The DFEH, which oversees California’s discrimination laws, is based on the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

It is a crucial distinction because the law violated determines the process to sue and remedies available. For example, since the DFEH does not enforce the Equal Pay Act, it must be brought under the EEOC. Similarly, the EEOC doesn’t enforce discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, California’s discrimination law does, and therefore, those claims will be brought under the DFEH.

Right to Sue

Under federal and state laws, the appropriate government agency must permit you to sue. It’s called a “right to sue” letter. That letter allows you to go to court for a discrimination violation based on a protected ground.

It’s important to know where to obtain a “right to sue letter.” For federal lawsuits under the EEOC, the EEOC will issue a “right to sue letter.” This permission is usually given once the EEOC completes its own investigation.  A right to sue letter allows a person to file a lawsuit in federal court.  If you’ve been discriminated against due to age or under the equal pay act, then there’s no need for a right to sue letter.

If you are proceeding under California’s discrimination laws, the DFEH issues the right-to-sue letter. However, it’s best to consult with a workplace discrimination attorney to ensure that the proper procedure is followed.

Contact an Employment Attorney

If you have suffered employment discrimination, you don’t have to wait for an agency to investigate your claim. You can request an immediate right-to-sue letter. Once the letter is issued, there is a limited amount of time to file the case in court. It’s a complicated process, and the employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak can ensure that your rights are protected.

Related Posts


Law Offices of 
Jeremy Pasternak

Get an answer from our trusted employment law attorneys

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

San Francisco

354 Pine St, 5th Floor 
San Francisco, CA 94104 
Phone: 415-693-0300 
Fax: 415-693-0393 
Get Directions To Our Office

Los Angeles

707 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 3700
Los Angeles, CA 90017 
Phone: 213-797-5823 
Get Directions To Our Office
© 2024 Jeremy Pasternak. All Rights Reserved.