Department of Fair Housing (DFEH) and Sexual Harassment Claims

Assisting California Sexual Harassment Victims With Filing a Civil Claim or Lawsuit for Damages

If you are a California workplace sexual harassment victim, you may recover monetary compensation under the law. An experienced attorney may accomplish this by filing a civil lawsuit for damages. However, before even getting to that step, your manager, supervisor, or employer’s actions must meet the legal definition of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can take many forms, including inappropriate or suggestive visual conduct (or contact), inappropriate touching or verbal conduct, promotion offers or other employment incentives in exchange for sexual favors, or retaliatory behavior for refusing or reporting the inappropriate conduct or advances to supervisors.

Although sexual harassment sometimes occurs at the hands of a manager or other direct supervisor, it does not need to. In fact, some instances of harassment occur at the hands of independent contractors and even clients of the employer. In any of these cases, depending upon the circumstances, your employer can still share in some or all of the responsibility for the inappropriate harassment.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) oversees sexual harassment prevention. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act, also known as FEHA, governs sexual harassment in California. This state statute lays out certain requirements and actions that you must take before filing a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment with the California courts. Failure to take those actions may bar you from seeking financial compensation for the harassment you suffered.

If you are the victim of California workplace sexual harassment, you may have legal options. The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, have successfully represented hundreds of harassment victims in settlement negotiations and courts throughout the state. Our lawyers have a proven track record of favorably settling and litigating these cases. Feel free to contact our experienced lawyers today to assist you in complying with FEHA’s requirements and filing a claim or lawsuit for damages.

Defining Sexual Harassment Under California Law

Sexual harassment has a precise legal meaning in California. Certain workplace conduct, although objectionable, may not necessarily rise to the level of sexual harassment.

In general, sexual harassment refers to sexual advances, as well as verbal, visual, or physical sexual contact or conduct. Common examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:

  • Visual conduct, including gestures of a sexual nature or lewd drawings or posters
  • Verbal conduct, including sexual jokes or in inappropriate commentary about a person’s looks or body
  • Physical touching, including physical assaults on a person in the workplace
  • Offering incentives, such as promotions, bonuses, or raises, to an employee in exchange for sexual conduct or favors
  • Retaliatory actions, including threats to lay off, reassign, or not promote or give raises to an employee who does not succumb to an employer’s sexual requests or advances

The experienced California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, can review your case to determine whether they can prove sexual harassment occurred. If so, our attorneys can discuss your legal options with you and develop a plan for moving your case forward.

California Employers Must Provide Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) requires certain California employers to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees. Specifically, employers who hire at least 50 full time, part time, or temporary employees (including independent contractors) must provide at least two hours’ worth of sexual harassment prevention training to their supervisors. They must provide this training at least one time every two years. Moreover, within six months of obtaining their supervisory roles, supervisors must receive the required sexual harassment prevention training. 

Company Supervisors Must Receive Training

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Requires that companies provide supervisors with classroom or live webinar trainings to prevent workplace sexual harassment. The training must provide:

  • The legal definition of sexual harassment under both federal and state laws. The applicable state law is the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The applicable federal law is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • The state and federal case laws and legal statutes that prohibit and prevent workplace sexual harassment
  • The types of conduct that may constitute sexual harassment under the law
  • The potential remedies that sexual harassment victims may claim and the potential legal options they have against their harassers and employers
  • Workplace sexual harassment prevention strategies
  • Obligations of workplace supervisors to report employee sexual harassment complaints
  • Relevant examples of workplace sexual harassment
  • Resources used by workplace sexual harassment victims
  • Information about whom sexual harassment victims should report instances of abuse to
  • Corrective measures that employers can take to remedy workplace sexual harassment
  • Actions that a workplace supervisor should take if ever directly facing sexual harassment accusations
  • Question and answer sessions with hypotheticals presented

What Constitutes a “Workplace Supervisor”?

According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, workplace supervisors must receive proper training about workplace sexual harassment prevention. The term supervisor may apply to any number of people. Specifically, a supervisor is anyone working for the company who has authority to fire, hire, transfer, reward, or discipline or direct the performance of other employees. Moreover, anyone working for the company who has authority to recommend any of these actions to a higher-up may constitute a supervisor.

Who Can Provide the Necessary Training to Company Supervisors?

According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), several people can provide company supervisors with the proper sexual harassment prevention training, including:

  • Attorneys who practice employment law and are admitted to the bars of their states for at least two years.
  • Harassment prevention consultants or professionals who specialize in human resources—and who have at least two years’ experience in responding to workplace sexual harassment or discrimination complaints, investigating complaints of sexual harassment, training others in sexual harassment prevention, or advising employees or employers about sexual harassment prevention
  • College, university, or law school professors or instructors who hold a post-graduate degree or a California teaching degree. These people must also have at least 20 hours of instruction experience relating to employment law under either FEHA or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Taking Legal Action Against a Harasser and an Employer

If you were the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you may take legal action directly against your harasser or your employer. However, you cannot simply file a complaint with the California courts and begin litigating your case through the system. Unfortunately, sexual harassment cases in California are much more complicated.

The first step you should take if you suffered from workplace sexual harassment is to speak with an attorney, who can help explain the process to you and how you can best navigate it.

Your attorney may advise you to complain to your workplace supervisor or HR Department—either verbally or in writing—and may coach you through how to deliver a verbal complaint or help you craft the written complaint. Some sexual harassment complaints can resolve at this level without the need to file a lawsuit or litigate the case.

If you are not comfortable speaking directly with your supervisor about a sexual harassment complaint, review your company’s sexual harassment prevention policy or handbook with your attorney. In many cases, the policy or handbook will refer you to a specific person in human resources with whom you can speak.

In some cases, however, speaking with a workplace supervisor about your harassment complaint does not do any good or their intervention comes too late and you have already experienced emotional distress and turmoil. In that case, your attorney may advise you to file a formal sexual harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (or DFEH). The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, may assist you with this.

A formal complaint is a prerequisite to filing a civil lawsuit in the court system. If you do not file the DFEH or EEOC complaint, the court may dismiss your civil lawsuit for damages due to noncompliance.

If you are faced with filing a DFEH complaint, time may also be of the essence in your case. Specifically, you must file your formal complaint within one year of the date on which your harassment occurred. This effectively acts as a statute of limitations on your civil case. In other words, failure to file your DFEH complaint in a timely manner can preclude you from ever recovering monetary damages for the workplace sexual harassment you experienced.

The lawyers at Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, can assist you with preparing a formal DFEH complaint and can file it correctly and in a timely manner.

Receiving a “Right to Sue” Notification From DFEH

Before filing a civil lawsuit in the California court system, you must wait until you receive a “right to sue” notification from the California DFEH. You are not able to file a civil lawsuit for damages arising out of your sexual harassment claim until you receive this letter.

If you have not received this notification, you may contact the California DFEH and request that they issue the letter immediately. Otherwise, they will not issue it until after completing a formal investigation. Once you receive the notification, you have one year from the notification date to file a civil lawsuit in the California court system for damages.

Recovering Damages in a Civil Harassment Case

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing makes clear that no employer or coworker should require anyone to withstand harassment—particularly sexual harassment—in the workplace. Moreover, any victim of workplace sexual harassment has the right to pursue monetary compensation from the harasser, and in many cases, the employer. The employer can face liability for not putting the proper prevention protocols in place or for not taking responsive action in an adequate or timely manner.

California workplace sexual harassment victims may qualify to recover monetary compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, psychiatric harm, or psychological harm, among other damages.

The skilled California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, may help you pursue monetary compensation against both your harasser as well as your employer, depending on the circumstances. Our clients have literally recovered millions of dollars in compensation in civil sexual harassment settlements or court judgments.

Contact a California Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today to Discuss Your Case

No one deserves to suffer from California workplace sexual harassment, and harassers and employers deserve to face legal accountability for their actions or inactions. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act both provide state remedies for sexual harassment victims.

Large corporations and their insurers have literally millions of dollars at their disposal, and they often vigorously defend workplace sexual harassment claims. Consequently, if you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you need experienced legal representation on your side every step of the way. The California sexual harassment lawyers at Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis, LLP, can determine if you can make a valid legal claim. Our lawyers can then make sure that you comply with all state and federal statutes and that you file your DFEH complaint and civil lawsuit in timely ways.

We represent clients in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas and throughout California. To schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with a California sexual harassment lawyer, please call us today at (800) 652-6137, or contact us online.