As a perquisite to file a civil lawsuit under the California Fair Employment & Housing Act ("FEHA"), a current or former employee must file a charge of discrimination with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH") within one year of the alleged adverse act. Gov’t Code § 12960(c). If the DFEH chooses not to pursue a claim on behalf of the aggrieved employee or the employee requests to pursue his or her civil remedies without the DFEH’s assistance, the DFEH will issue a right-to-sue notice. The right-to-sue notice entitles the employee to bring a civil suit against the employer within one year. The question is whether the statute of limitations to file a civil suit is triggered upon issuance or receipt of the right-to-sue notice? A California appellate court recently answered this question.

In Hall v. Goodwill Industries of California, 193 Cal. App. 4th 718 (2011), a former employee filed a charge of discrimination with the DFEH and received an immediate right-to-sue notice. The employee became incapacitated during the period after the DFEH issued his right-to-sue notice, and was allegedly unaware that the DFEH sent the notice until almost a year later. He filed a civil complaint one year after the DFEH sent the right-to-sue notice, but less than one year after receipt of the right-to-sue notice.  Interpreting the plain language of Government Code section 12965(b), the appellate court confirmed that the date of issuance—not the date of receipt—triggers the running of the statute of limitations to file a civil complaint. 

Notably, the appellate court’s interpretation of the statute of limitations under FEHA is different from federal interpretations of a similar, but not identical, statute of limitations under Title VII. Under Title VII, a civil lawsuit must be filed 90 days after receipt of the right-to-sue letter.