Question:

Two summers ago I had my first job, and it did not go well. My boss made fun of me because of my religion and when I asked for time off for a religious observance, he shouted at me for being a “holy roller” and fired me on the spot. My friends told me I should sue him, but I’m afraid it is too late. It was sixteen at the time but I am now eighteen. Can I still sue?

Answer:

Under a new law that is effective January 1, 2006, you may be able to file a timely discrimination claim.

In California, discrimination complaints are investigated by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH can pursue a complaint itself, and prosecute the claim before the Fair Employment and Housing Commission. Or, the DFEH may decide not to prosecute the claim, or the complainant may decide to request a “right to sue” letter and pursue the claim by suing in state court.

Normally, the complaint must be filed with the DFEH within one year of the last alleged unlawful action. If the aggrieved employee did not discover the employer’s alleged unlawful practice until after the one-year period, the time limit can be extended “not to exceed 90 days following expiration of the one-year period.” In addition, and under some circumstances, an employee can sue and allege a series of discriminatory conduct, some of which predated the one-year statute of limitations, on a “continuing violation” theory. However, the employee must show that at least one of the related and recurring discriminatory acts occurred within one year of filing the complaint, and also provide justification for not filing charges sooner.

If the DFEH does not prosecute the complaint, or if the employee elects to sue in state court, the DFEH will close its file and issue a “right to sue letter.” The employee then has one year from the date of the right to sue letter to file a lawsuit in state court. Under these rules, your claim would be too late because you did not file your complaint with the DFEH within a year after you were fired.

A new law, AB 1669, amends Government Code §12960 and will extend the time period for a minor to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If an employee is under age eighteen when the unlawful discrimination occurred, the employee has one year from the date the person turns eighteen to file the complaint with the DFEH. Under this new law, your complaint to the DFEH will not be barred if you file it before you turn 19.

Filing a complaint with the DFEH or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is required before an employee can file a lawsuit in court. The federal EEOC also enforces employment discrimination laws. If an employee chooses to file a complaint with the EEOC, the complaint must be filed within 180 days after the occurrence of the alleged discriminatory act. The extension of time for a minor to file a complaint does not apply to complaints filed with the EEOC.
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