California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) Director Phyllis W. Cheng, speaking at the Jackson Lewis LLP-sponsored Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Labor and Employment Committee Meeting on Feb. 22, 2011, told the gathering of business lawyers that the agency would continue to pursue high-impact cases of “systemic discrimination” under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) as a means of leveraging its resources in a time of government austerity.

The DFEH established a Special Investigation Unit to pursue such cases potentially through class actions and multi-plaintiff  litigation. According to Cheng, the DFEH has transformed itself under the state’s fiscal crisis measures to become more effective and efficient. Doing more with less, Cheng said the DFEH now targets “systemic discrimination” with case grading, special investigations, group and class actions, mediation, and education.

Employers who operate in California face unique challenges. California continues to expand the rights of employees. Even well-intentioned employers, for lack of appropriate guidance, can find themselves at risk for violations of the law.  As Cheng eloquently stated, the lessons are clear for employers: “Complying with workplace laws is good for business and productivity." For more information, see   Calif.’s Canary In The Employment Mine Shaft