Difference Between California’s EEOC and DFEH (2024)

Frank S. Clowney III

In California, the enforcement of important anti-discrimination laws in the workplace is handled by two key agencies: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). While both of these agencies aim to protect the rights of employees and defend them against discrimination at work, they operate at different levels of government and have distinct–though occasionally overlapping or interconnected–roles. These differences matter because workers have different anti-discrimination protections, rights, and options for recourse under each agency.

Perhaps the single most important thing to remember is that the EEOC is a federal entity, established under the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. This means that the EEOC protects all Americans from being discriminated against at work based on protected characteristics like their race, religion, gender, or nationality–not just residents of California.

The DFEH, on the other hand, is a state-level entity existing in California. This means that they are in charge of enforcing applicable state laws (notably the Fair Employment and Housing Act, through which the agency was created) and pursuing enforcement actions against violators within the state of California.

Key Differences Between the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

There are several important differences between these two agencies. Understanding these distinctions is crucial when you are attempting to pursue a claim against an employer who has violated harassment or discrimination laws.

The major differences between these two agencies include:

  • Jurisdiction: The EEOC enforces federal laws related to workplace discrimination throughout the United States. In contrast, the DFEH, a California state agency, is focused solely on activities within California and enforcing the state’s specific anti-discrimination laws. These often provide more comprehensive protections than federal codes.
  • Size Criteria for Qualifying Businesses: Because of the details of the laws they oversee, the EEOC and the DFEH also oversee businesses of different sizes. The federal EEOC has jurisdiction over employers with 15 or more employees for most matters. The DFEH, however, can take enforcement action against any business with 5 or more employees on the payroll, pursuant to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
  • Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations for filing claims is another area in which these two agencies differ. The EEOC generally requires federal claims related to workplace discrimination and similar matters to be filed within 180 days (or about half a year) of the discriminatory act. In California, however, the window for filing a claim with an enforcement agency like the DFEH is notably more generous. In many cases, a FEHA claim can be filed up to 3 years after the offending act (or the discovery of the act).
  • Types of Discrimination Dealt With: While both agencies cover many common types of workplace discrimination, there are a few subtle differences. The state-level DFEH enforces a few additional types of discrimination that are not explicitly spelled out in the EEOC rules. For example, the DFEH covers marital status and military (or military veteran) status, which are not specifically protected under the federal Civil Rights Act rules.
  • Legal Remedies Available: Both the EEOC and the DFEH can help wronged workers pursue legal recourse in the form of back pay, reinstatement of employment, corrective actions against the employer, and other forms of compensation. A key difference here can be the limits for punitive damages, which can differ under state and federal statutes.


Q: What Is One Difference Between the DFEH and the EEOC?

A: The most important difference between the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is that the DFEH is a state agency that has jurisdiction over California employers. In contrast, the EEOC is a federal agency that protects all American workers under the terms of the Civil Rights Act and other nationwide employment regulations.

Q: What Is the California Version of the EEOC?

A: The Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or DFEH, can be thought of as a “California version” of the EEOC. It is important to remember that there are differences between the two agencies, however. Some of the most important differences include increased protections for certain individuals, protections for people who work for smaller companies, and a longer statute of limitations.

Q: What Is the EEO Statement for 2023?

A: Each employer is actually free to customize the language in their own EEO statement to suit the specifics of their operation. It typically includes language reinforcing the company’s commitment to being an equal-opportunity workplace free of discrimination. While employers can each draft their own EEO, they often include very standardized statements from one company to the next. One example would be a statement that reads, “Applicants will be considered for employment without attention to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, veteran or disability status.”

Q: What Is the Difference Between the FEPA and the EEOC?

A: FEPA stands for Fair Employment Practices Agency. While this might sound like another federal agency (like the EEOC), there are actually multiple FEPAs operating throughout the country. Instead of asking how FEPAs and the EEOC differ, it may make more sense to understand how exactly they work together. The EEOC counts on the various FEPAs that they contract with to help them process claims and pursue enforcement actions against employers charged with violations.

Contact The Law Office of Frank S. Clowney III for Help With Understanding the Differences Between the EEOC and the DFEH

Understanding the many nuanced differences between the federal EEOC and the state DFEH can be a daunting task, but it is essential for those seeking to bring claims against an employer. Thankfully, safeguarding your rights as a working Californian is not a fight that you have to enter into alone. At The Law Office of Frank S. Clowney III, we are ready to guide you down a path from discrimination to justice. With knowledge of both federal and California state employment laws, we’re ready to provide compassionate guidance and detailed legal strategies to the working people of California. Please contact our San Diego offices today to set up an initial consultation.