For sexual harassment and discrimination claims, before an employee can bring a lawsuit for damages, an employee must first exhaust administrative remedies by filing a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The filing of the administrative claim is required by the statutes, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII, as a necessary step before one can bring a lawsuit. The complaint to the California DFEH or to the federal EEOC must contain sufficient facts to support the eventual claims in the lawsuit for either harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in order for the claim to survive legal scrutiny.
Under California FEHA, a complaint must be brought to the DFEH within one year from the date of the last incident of harassment or discrimination,which period may be extended up to 90 days if the alleged victim first obtained knowledge of the facts of the harassment after the expiration of the one year period from the date of the occurrence.
Under Title VII, the victim has 180 days from the incident to file a charge with the EEOC. However, if the employee institutes a claim with the DFEH, then they may file a charge with the EEOC within 300 days of the incident, or within 30 days of receiving a right to sue notice from the DFEH, whichever is earlier.
If an administrative claim to the DFEH or the EEOC is not filed within the time period provided by the applicable statute of limitations, then the case is subject to being forever barred by the courts. If a sexual harassment victim does not file an administrative complaint within the required amount of time, then that victim will not be able to move forward with a lawsuit.
After a claimant files an administrative complaint and after the claimant gets a right to sue letter, then the claimant must file a private civil lawsuit within one year of the date of the right to sue letter from the DFEH.
If discrimination or harassment has taken place over a long period of time, a victim is able to sue for the entire course of the discrimination or harassment if the DFEH charge properly states a “continuing violation" and the charge is filed within the applicable statute of limitations period from the last incident of discrimination or harassment.