How to File a Racial Discrimination Complaint in California

how to file a racial discrimination complaint

You deserve to work, live, and exist without facing discriminatory treatment or harassment because of your race, skin color, or ethnicity. Prejudice has no place in California – not only is it unethical and demoralizing, but racial discrimination also violates multiple state and federal laws.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and other civil rights laws prohibit racial bias in employment decisions, housing opportunities, access to public spaces and services, and more. If you’ve been the victim of unlawful racial discrimination, taking legal action is often the only way to hold perpetrators accountable and prevent future injustices.

As employment and civil rights attorneys dedicated to justice, we guide clients through this process every step of the way. We’ll ensure you understand your rights, gather the evidence needed to build a solid case, and navigate each filing procedure and deadline correctly from day one.

Racial Discrimination Under California Law

Under the FEHA and federal Title VII, racial discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably due to their actual or perceived race, skin color, ethnicity, or ethnic traits associated with a racial group – including hair texture, facial features, accents, and cultural dress/grooming practices.

This illegal conduct could mean:

  • Refusing to hire, promote, or compensate someone based on their race/ethnicity
  • Segregating employees or tenants based on race into undesirable roles/units
  • Permitting widespread racist remarks, slurs, and harassment that creates a hostile environment
  • Enforcing grooming/appearance policies that disproportionately impact certain ethnicities
  • Providing inferior service, opportunities, or treatment to racial minorities

California laws explicitly prohibit racial discrimination in virtually all areas of employment, housing, banking/lending, public accommodations, and any program or activity receiving state funding.

When to File a Racial Discrimination Complaint

Strict filing deadlines govern when racial discrimination complaints must be submitted to enforcement agencies. For the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charges must be filed within 180 calendar days from the date of discrimination. For California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD), complaints usually must be filed within one year.

However, these timeframes can differ depending on circumstances like whether the discrimination is considered ongoing. It’s critical to act quickly – missing a filing deadline could permanently jeopardize your case.

Seeking legal counsel as soon as possible after experiencing discrimination is advisable. Qualified civil rights attorneys can ensure you meet all agency deadlines and put together the strongest argument from day one.

Filing a Complaint First With Your Employer or the Offending Entity

Many employers require that internal grievance procedures be followed before escalating discrimination claims externally. State and federal agencies often issue discrimination complaint dismissals if these internal processes weren’t pursued first.

The specific protocols typically involve formally notifying your human resources department or the organization’s leadership about the discriminatory conduct you experienced. Employers then have a window of time (e.g., 30 days) to investigate and respond.

While imperfect, adhering to internal complaint channels creates a record of your allegation and the employer’s actions or inactions. This documentation adds credibility to external agency complaints if internal remedies prove ineffective or unsatisfactory.

How to File a Workplace Racial Discrimination Complaint in California

Filing With the California Civil Rights Department (CRD)

As the state agency tasked with enforcing California civil rights laws like the FEHA, the CRD should be your first stop for filing racial discrimination complaints against most employers.

The CRD’s intake process involves submitting an online questionnaire, printable form, or dictating allegations over the phone. Be prepared to provide details like:

  • The alleged discriminator’s name and your relationship to them (employer, landlord, business, etc.)
  • Clear descriptions of each discriminatory action/incident
  • Dates, times, locations, and any witness contact information
  • Documentation like employment records, property leases, photos/videos, policy guidelines, etc.

Once the CRD accepts your complaint of discrimination, it launches an independent investigation – interviewing parties on both sides, requesting evidence, and ultimately determining if California civil rights statutes were violated.

If the CRD finds cause for discrimination occurred, it will invite both sides to mediation aimed at negotiating a resolution (e.g. back pay, policy changes, compensatory damages). If mediation fails, the CRD has authority to prosecute your case in court directly or issue a “right to sue” notice enabling you to file a private lawsuit.

Filing With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

For racial discrimination cases specifically related to employment decisions like hiring, promotion, pay, or termination, you’ll need to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in addition to the CRD.

The EEOC enforces federal anti-discrimination laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Its online public portal, downloadable forms, or phone line enable submitting charges against private employers, staffing agencies, labor unions, and more.

While EEOC has its own investigation process, it has a “work-sharing” agreement with CRD. This means racial discrimination charges filed with one agency are automatically cross-filed with the other in California.

After the EEOC completes its investigation, it will either dismiss the charge or make a determination of whether federal discrimination laws were violated. If so, you may receive a “right to sue” notice for taking the case to court.

The Complaint Investigation & Resolution Process

Once you’ve properly filed racial discrimination complaints, the investigative phases begin. Agencies like CRD and EEOC gather evidence, conduct interviews, and analyze whether discrimination statutes were violated based on the details of your case.

While thoroughness is essential, these probes can take many months or longer. Your attorney plays a key role in advocating on your behalf, ensuring investigators consider every discriminatory incident and piece of documentation submitted.

If agencies make a “cause” finding that discrimination likely occurred, they’ll invite you and the respondent entity to mediation or conciliation meetings in hopes of negotiating a pre-litigation settlement agreement.

This binding contract can include:

  • Back pay and compensation for economic damages like lost wages
  • Policy changes and anti-discrimination training at the employer/organization
  • Reinstatement of employment or comparable position if you were terminated
  • Non-economic damages like emotional distress and punitive damages in extreme cases

If mediation fails or the parties decline attendance, the CRD, EEOC, or other agencies can decide to litigate your case in court. They become your legal representation going forward, or you may request a “right to sue” letter to hire a private law firm.

Throughout the process, government investigators are focused solely on whether discrimination statutes were actually violated according to letter of the law. That’s why retaining experienced civil rights counsel is essential – they advocate for your side of the story and all remedies deserved under principles of justice.

Protecting Your Rights After Filing a Complaint

Once you take legal action reporting racial discrimination, you instantly gain increased protection from retaliation under state and federal laws.

Retaliation involves any adverse action or harassment against you for filing a discrimination complaint or participating in an investigation. This could mean being fired or demoted, being denied housing opportunities, facing increased hostility and more.

The FEHA and Title VII expressly prohibit retaliation, meaning entities cannot punish you simply for asserting your civil rights. If you experience any retaliatory acts after filing discrimination complaints, you can file an additional retaliation complaint subject to specific filing deadlines (usually within 1-2 years maximum).

Our civil rights attorneys make protecting you from retaliation a paramount concern. We ensure you understand your rights, gather evidence of any retaliatory conduct, and properly submit additional charges if merited to enforcement agencies.

Racial Discrimination Complaint Checklist & Resources

Filing racial discrimination claims is legally complex, but working with qualified civil rights counsel provides you the highest likelihood of success. Here are some final tips as you prepare your case:

  1. Document Everything — Maintain careful records of every incident, including dates, times, locations, witness names, photos/videos, employment records, policy documents, etc.
  2. Adhere to Agency Deadlines — Ensure your initial complaint is filed before agency deadlines from the discriminatory act. Mark the dates moving forward.
  3. File with Multiple Agencies — For employment cases, cross-file with CRD and EEOC initially. Attorneys can advise where else to file.
  4. Report Retaliation Promptly — Keep your lawyer informed immediately if you face any retaliation after filing so new charges can be submitted expeditiously.
  5. Stay Patient, Prepared, and Engaged — Investigations take time. Provide documentation whenever requested and stay in close contact with your legal team.

Exposing racial injustice takes tremendous courage, perseverance, and skilled legal strategy. If you’re ready to take that first step, our civil rights attorneys are prepared to walk this path alongside you as zealous advocates.

Attempting to take on racial discrimination alone means facing an endless maze of bureaucracy and frequently being outmatched by deep-pocketed opponents. But our proven trial lawyers level the playing field – we’ve successfully navigated this process countless times and won’t stop fighting until justice prevails in your case.

The road ahead is difficult, but the first step is simple – reach out to the racial discrimination complaint attorneys at TONG LAW today. Your path to equality, dignity, and holding discriminators accountable begins now.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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