What’s the Difference Between the EEOC and the California DFEH?

What is the difference between the EEOC and the DFEH? The simple answer is that the EEOC stands for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is an independent agency within the U.S. government responsible for enforcing federal laws against workplace discrimination.

California DFEH stands for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. It falls under the Business, Consumer Affairs, and Housing Agency within the government of the state of California. It enforces state laws against discrimination in employment and housing.

Both these agencies resolve labor discrimination complaints. But the laws they enforce, the employers they regulate, and their processing of complaints differ.

Here are some of the differences between the EEOC and the California DFEH.

Laws Against Employment Discrimination

Both the EEOC and California DFEH investigate claims of employment discrimination. But the EEOC and California DFEH rely on different laws to stop discriminatory practices.

What Laws Does the EEOC Enforce?

The EEOC enforces several federal laws, including:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. 

These laws have proven powerful for stopping employers from discriminating due to:

  • Race or racial characteristics
  • Native language or accent
  • Gender or gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Immigration status (with certain limitations)

These laws prohibit discrimination in all aspects of employment. This includes hiring, compensation, termination, advancement, training, and benefits. They also prohibit harassment.

Equal Pay Act

The federal Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying men and women differently for performing the same job.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is part of Title VII and prohibits employers from pregnancy discrimination. This includes pregnancy, recent childbirth, or a medical condition arising from pregnancy or childbirth. 

It applies to all conditions of employment, including hiring and firing.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits employers from disability discrimination. This means that an employer must usually offer reasonable accommodations for the employee’s disability. An employer cannot simply fire an employee or change the conditions of their employment due to disability.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA prohibits employers from age discrimination against workers and job candidates over age 40.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

GINA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on genetic testing information for workers, job applicants, or their family members.


These laws prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for filing a complaint with the EEOC. They also prohibit retaliation for testifying in an EEOC proceeding to support a co-worker’s claim of discrimination.

What Laws Does the California DFEH Enforce?

California DFEH enforces two laws. We’ll explore each of these in depth below.

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

California’s FEHA overlaps with the federal anti-discrimination laws in many ways. But it adds many more forms of discrimination that the federal laws do not cover. 

Under FEHA, employers in California cannot discriminate based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Religion
  • Age (for people 40 and over)
  • Mental or physical disability
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Gender
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or related medical conditions
  • Marital status
  • Military service

California’s FEHA also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who make a good faith report of discrimination to California DFEH.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

CFRA requires employers to provide family leave to care for the employee’s own serious health condition or a relative’s serious health condition. This includes children, spouses, domestic partners, and parents of the worker.

Employers Subject to Enforcement

The EEOC and California DFEH also differ in which employers fall within their jurisdictions.

Most laws enforced by the EEOC cover employers throughout the country with 15 or more employees company-wide. This is true even if the employer has fewer than 15 employees in California.

The laws enforced by California DFEH only cover employers in California. Suppose you live in California but work in Nevada for a Nevada-based employer. California DFEH probably does not have jurisdiction over your employer.

But California’s laws also cover smaller businesses. FEHA and CFRA apply to every California employer with five or more employees company-wide.

Filing Deadlines

One of the most important differences between the EEOC and California DFEH comes from the deadlines for filing a complaint. You must file an EEOC charge within 180 days after the discriminatory action. 

Although you may think that 180 days seems like a long time, it can pass very quickly if you do not know the reason for the adverse job action.

For example, suppose that your request for a raise was denied. A few months later, your employer denies a raise request from another employee from the same country of origin and the same level of experience. Another month passes and a third worker from the same country of origin has their raise denied. 

In this example, several months had passed before you could see a pattern that implied your raise was denied for discriminatory reasons.

California DFEH has much more generous filing deadlines. You must file a complaint with California DFEH within one year after the discrimination occurred. This gives you much more time to assemble a case against your employer.

A Right-to-Sue Letter

Both federal and California law require you to obtain a right-to-sue letter before filing a lawsuit against your employer. But the EEOC and California DFEH have different requirements for issuing a right-to-sue letter.

The EEOC usually only issues right-to-sue letters after it has completed its investigation. The EEOC requests at least 180 days to resolve the charge before it will grant a right-to-sue letter. In limited circumstances, the EEOC might grant a right-to-sue letter before it completes its investigation.

California DFEH also issues a right-to-sue letter after it has completed its investigation. But it will grant a right-to-sue letter immediately if you file an EEOC charge. Although you may need to wait to assert your claims under federal laws, this allows you to file a lawsuit asserting your rights under California’s FEHA quickly.

Resolving Employment Discrimination Claims in California

Both the EEOC and California DFEH have a role in resolving discrimination claims against California employers. These roles are complementary rather than conflicting. But you should remain aware of the limitations of each agency so you and your employment attorneys can pick the right venue for your case.

To learn more, call our San Diego law firm at (619) 693-7727 or contact us online.