California's housing and job discrimination complaint process just got longer

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Just in time for Labor Day, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing is slowing down the online process for filing job discrimination complaints - with the goal of improving the quality and consistency of its caseload.

Since 2012, when a streamlined, computerized complaint process was introduced, it has been possible to file a complaint directly online. But starting Sept. 1, those with complaints about unfair treatment due to age, race, gender, disability or other protected status will be asked to first share details of their situation with a human screener, according to Phyllis Cheng, director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

It used to take a couple of months of interviews and mailing of documents back and forth before an  employment discrimination complaint could be formally filed under California's old paper-based system, Cheng said. The new computer system allowed workers  to access forms directly online and file a complaint within minutes.  It sped up the process, but skipped a step where fair employment investigators routinely screened complaints. 

The  quicker system meant too many flawed complaints were being filed, Cheng said. "There was a lot of variability, even though we had drop down menus and guidance," she said of the online system. "Some people put in a lot of information, maybe too much, and other people didn't put in enough information."

 So officials decided to add a step called a pre-complaint inquiry. As of Monday, those using the online system will be screened by an investigator, who can help define each case before it's filed.
It may take more time, but Cheng says complaints will be less likely to be dismissed.

The department gets about 20,000 employment and housing complaints each year, most of them related to workplace discrimination.
Workers who already have a lawyer and want to sue an employer, first must exhaust their legal remedies by filing a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. According to Cheng, they can still file a complaint directly, bypassing an investigator interview. They will receive a "right to sue" letter, permitting them to move forward. All others will need to go through the pre-complaint inquiry process, Cheng said.