Both federal and California state laws prohibit discrimination based on sex. It is illegal for an employer to fire, fail to hire, or discriminate in any way against you with respect to your compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because you are a man or a woman. These prohibitions on discrimination also apply to sex-based harassment. Harassment is a form of discrimination that occurs when a boss, supervisor, or co-worker subjects you to hostile, offensive or intimidating behavior because of your sex that is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with your ability to perform your job.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination, applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), the California law, applies to employers with 5 or more employees (except In cases of harassment, in which case there is no minimum employer size).

Filing a complaint

If you are not able to resolve your situation informally, you can:
Follow your employer's grievance procedure, if your employer has one. You also can choose to file an employment discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (sex discrimination only) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) (sex, sexual orientation, disability, political activity), which may investigate your complaint and try to resolve the problem. There is no charge to file a complaint, and you can do so without an attorney. You must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 days, or with the DFEH within one year, of the last act of discrimination or harassment. If you do not file a complaint within these time limits, you may lose your right to legal protection from the discrimination or harassment.

Under state and federal law, it is illegal for a person or company to retaliate against you if you complain about discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Retaliation may include actions such as terminating you, moving you to less favorable assignments or shifts, making undeserved negative evaluations, or intensifying the original harassment. If anyone (including a co-worker or supervisor) retaliates against you for complaining about unlawful discrimination at your workplace, you can file a retaliation complaint with the EEOC or DFEH. That complaint is separate from the original discrimination complaint, if any, you made with the EEOC or DFEH.

If the EEOC or DFEH finds evidence of discrimination and is not able to reach a settlement between you and your employer, the agency may in rare occasions "prosecute" your case by holding a formal hearing or filing a lawsuit on your behalf. If the EEOC or DFEH chooses not to prosecute your case, you will receive a "right to sue" notice from the agency. (You also can request a right to sue notice at any point in the agency's investigation process, which will stop the agency's investigation and enable you to proceed directly with a lawsuit). Only after you receive aright to sue letter can you file your own lawsuit in court. If you get a right to sue notice from the EEOC, you must file a lawsuit within 90 days. If you get a right to sue notice from the DFEH, you must file a lawsuit within one year of the date of the notice. If you do not file a lawsuit within these time limits, you may lose your legal right to file a lawsuit regarding the discrimination or harassment.

EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) : To file a complaint with the EEOC, contact the nearest Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office. To be automatically connected with the nearest office, call (800) 669-4000. EEOC website:

DFEH (California Department of Fair Employment and Housing): To file a complaint with the DFEH, call the Communication Center at (800) 884-1684 to make an appointment. DFEH website:

Important: Keep copies of all important letters and documents that you send to your employer or that your employer sends to you. If in doubt, do not sign anything without legal advice, especially documents that require you to agree to waive your right to bring a complaint, or require you to arbitrate disputes with your employer.

(Employment Law Center; a Project of the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco, 2001)