Taking Action

Before entering into a potentially expensive legal battle, it is important for an employee to determine whether the issue can be resolved out of court. If the discrimination happened on the job, he or she should notify a supervisor and contact a Human Resources representative to report the abuse. Employees that feel they are being discriminated against in the workplace should be sure to document all incidents of discrimination and any efforts to alleviate them. Another helpful resource might be an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Employee Resource Group (ERG), which typically offer free or low cost help to employees in the workplace, if EAP, ERG, or similar services are offered by the employer. Sometimes, something as simple as a carefully worded letter from your attorney about problems in the workplace can help make employers aware of and more likely to act on the concerns raised by their employees regarding workplace harassment or discrimination.1

If these attempts do not solve the problem, a legal course of action may be appropriate. Depending on the person's residency and the location of his or her employer, he or she can file local, state, and federal claims. In San Francisco, employees should file a complaint with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission reporting a violation of Article 33 of the San Francisco Charter and Administrative Code. Outside of San Francisco, victims of employment discrimination should contact the municipality's local human rights commission and, if they don't have one, check with the City or County Clerk. Unfortunately, local laws like these often are of limited value to victims, because California state law bars someone from bringing a lawsuit under these local laws. Therefore, if investigation or mediation does not result in a satisfactory resolution, the Human Rights Commission or similar agency can take no further action to enforce the law, and the employee has no other recourse under local law. He or she must therefore pursue the complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency.2

For a state claim, a person must first file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in order to report the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) violation. There is no charge to file a complaint, and one can do so without an attorney. FEHA requires that individuals must exhaust their administrative remedies with DFEH before filing a lawsuit. Upon investigation, if DFEH cannot alleviate the situation, they will issue a “right-to-sue” letter that enables the individual to file a lawsuit. DFEH will accept requests for an immediate DFEH "right-to-sue notice" from people who have decided to proceed in court without going through the DFEH investigation. The DFEH complaint must be filed within one year from the last act of discrimination or he may lose his right to file a lawsuit under the FEHA. The individual should be sure to request that DFEH cross file the claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in order to obtain a similar “right-to-sue” notice for a federal claim. If you are in a state that does not have a Fair Employment and Housing office, you can file your complaint directly with the EEOC within 180 days of the incident of discrimination or harassment having taken place. Federal claims, brought to allege a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, may only be brought against employers or companies with 15 or more employees.

  1. Sample Letter to Employer Re: Transgender Discrimination and Harassment, Transgender Law & Policy Institute. Last visited June 12, 2013. 

  2. Gender Identity Discrimination: Employment Rights for Transgender Workers Fact Sheet, Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Center. Last visited June 12, 2013.