You should contact a labor or employment law attorney immediately. You may likely want to file a claim in state or federal court; in addition to claims for violations of wage and hour laws in California. A competent plaintiff-side labor or employment attorney can help you with these types of claims. Most offer a free and confidential consultation. Good luck.
Any post of discussion above is general in nature and is not intended to and should not be construed as legal advice. Furthermore, the above posting does not create or establish any attorney-client relationship. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. [John D. Wu is licensed to practice law before all California federal and state courts]
The EEOC handles discrimination/retaliation/harassment claims as does the DFEH - neither office handles wage claims. The DOL handles wage claims and you can usually go back 3 years from the date the violation occurred (statute of limitations.) However, filing a claim with the DOL is only one option. Most times, the DOL will try to get you to settle for less than what is owed and if not, will hold a hearing and if the the DOL gets the facts or law wrong, you only have 10 days to appeal to Superior Court and have to pay over $400.00 to do so. I recommend that you call an employment law attorney to discuss your claim. She/he may be able to get what is owed to you by sending a demand letter to your former employer and negotiating an out of court settlement. Many wage laws provide that the employer "shall" pay the employee's attorneys' fees. As such, employees can get an attorney to pursue their claim at no cost to the employee. In addition, if you file a DOL claim and want an attorney to represent you, the laws that state that the employer "shall" pay the employees' attorney's fees don't apply if you file your claim with the DOL. Most employment law attorneys provide a free initial phone consultation. Call an employment attorney right away.
If the form of retaliation was termination, or some lesser but significant adverse employment action, you have a right to sue in superior court for wrongful adverse employment action in violation of public policy. That is a claim available to you only through a superior court lawsuit.
As to the wage claim, your better approach would be to file the claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, also known as the Labor Commissioner's Office, if you want to proceed with this matter administratively. You do have options.
You can file a small claims action if the amount in controversy is less than $10,000.
You can file an administrative claim, as suggested.
You can file a lawsuit, seeking recovery for the wage claim and the retaliation claims.
As a precursor to these, you can consider hiring an attorney to send a demand letter and try to resolve the matter before litigation becomes necessary.
You should really locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site in the Find a Lawyer section, or go to www.cela.org, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.
Good luck to you.
This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.
Note that both the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and California law prohibit retaliation for engaging in protected activity regarding your entitlement to the minimum wage (protected activity includes but is not limited to filing a wage claim or protesting to your employer about illegal wage practices). As the other answers indicate, you should contact an experienced employment attorney to protect your rights to minimum wage and to be free from retaliation for objecting to unlawful wage practices.