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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.