The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), California’s civil rights agency (whose mission is to protect Californians from employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination, as well as hate crimes), has announced an ambitious three-year plan to step up enforcement of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
Phyllis Cheng, the DFEH’s director, who was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger earlier this year, announced the plan at a presentation given on June 26, 2008 before members of the San Diego County Bar Association’s Employment Law Section.
The DFEH plans to streamline the claim process. Previously, employees had to schedule an office appointment at a regional DFEH office to initiate a complaint. Under the updated procedure, complainants don’t have to go in to a DFEH office; they can file a complaint on-line by visiting the DFEH website to schedule an appointment, and in-person appointments will soon be unnecessary because telephone in-take interviews will start to be used. Initially, four of the ten DFEH offices will accept telephonic in-takes.
The DFEH will also automate the right to sue system. Usually when employees are represented by counsel, they do not want the DFEH to investigate but request a “right to sue” letter, which is a prerequisite to filing a civil lawsuit in court. In fact, the majority of claims are processed this way. “Of the 16,000 employment claims filed each year, about 9,000 of them are filed by employees represented by counsel who want a right to sue letter,” said Ms. Cheng. Implementing an automated online right- to-sue system will free up DFEH staff to work on more discrimination investigations.