This post was authored by Megan Lewis.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) recently issued its 2017 Annual Report, which provides a fascinating glimpse into who is filing complaints and why.

The DFEH is the largest state civil rights agency in the country.  Its stated mission is to protect the people of California from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and from hate violence and human trafficking.  To accomplish its mission, the DFEH receives, investigates, conciliates, mediates, and prosecutes complaints of alleged violations of various statutes, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act.  The DFEH began issuing annual reports regarding its operations after the California Legislature authorized the DFEH to file lawsuits in state court in 2013.

How Many Complaints Were Filed?

More than ever before.

The DFEH received nearly 25,000 complaints from members of the public in 2017, which is a notable increase from 2016 (+5%) and a whopping 25% increase from 2014.  Over half of the claims filed in 2017 were requests for an immediate “Right-to-Sue” letter, which allows a complainant to bypass the DFEH’s investigation process and instead file a case in civil court.

What Kind of Complaints? 

Mostly employment, almost 20% of which were based on age.

The vast majority (90%) of complaints filed were related to employment matters, while another 5% related to housing issues.

Of the employment-related complaints:

  • 19% were based on age
  • 16% were based on disability
  • 11% were based on sex/gender (another 7% were based on sexual harassment)
  • 11% were based on having engaged in protected activity
  • 10% were based on race (another 4% were based on national origin)
  • 22% were based on other issues

Who is Filing All These Complaints?

People who live in Southern California, and more white people than any other racial group.

People who live and/or work in Los Angeles County submitted the most complaints of any county in the state in 2017, about a third of the total number of complaints the DFEH received that year.  This is unsurprising given that Los Angeles County is by far the most populated county in California.  Orange County, San Diego County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County round out the top 5.

In Northern California, Alameda County submitted the most complaints, followed closely by Sacramento County and San Francisco County.

In terms of race and national origin, more whites (31%) and Americans (52%) filed complaints than any other groups (at least with respect to the 52% of complainants that disclosed their race and the 35% that disclosed their national origin).  The DFEH does not track other demographic information at this time.

How Are These Complaints Resolved?

The DFEH received 24,779 complaints in 2017, only 19,032 of which were ultimately filed.  Of those, the DFEH investigated 6,160 complaints.

The DFEH facilitated nearly $13 million in settlements in 888 matters.

140 claims were referred to the DFEH’s attorneys in the Enforcement Division, and just 25% of those (35 matters) resulted in litigation filed by the DFEH.

The report is silent on the outcome of the remaining 5,000 or so complaints.

What’s Next?

More total complaints, and more related to discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex/gender.

In 2017, the DFEH launched a new cloud-based filing and case management system that allows members of the public and their representatives to submit complaints online for all of the civil rights laws the DFEH enforces.  We expect that instituting online filing will result in a significant increase in total complaints submitted.  We also think it is very likely that, in the wake of the “me too” movement, the DFEH will report a spike in sex/gender claims and sexual harassment claims submitted in 2018.