Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Massachusetts employment discrimination. The purpose of the Massachusetts antidiscrimination law is to protect workers in Massachusetts from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Massachusetts employment law and how the law protects you.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts employers with six or more employees are prohibited by state law from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender identity, age, criminal record (inquiries only), disabilies, mental illness, pregnancy, retaliation, sexual harassment, genetics, and military status. Federal law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth and other related medical conditions), disability, age, citizenship status and genetic information.
In Massachusetts, courts have determined that state law should be interpreted more broadly than federal law, so in certain types of cases, especially in the areas of disability, sexual harassment, and age discrimination, there may be more protection under state law. (See MCAD guidelines on disability, maternity leave, and sexual harassment for more information.)
Massachusetts also has a more worker-friendly rule for continuing violations in sexual harassment cases. The Massachusetts rule focuses on hopelessness of the situation while the federal rule focuses on when exactly the employee would have been able to file a hostile environment claim based on the workplace activity.
State law also makes it illegal to "aid and abet" discrimination, which permits legal action to be taken against any person (not limited to an employee of your employer) who helped cause the discrimination to happen. Unlike federal law, you can sue your supervisor or coworker who discriminated against you, and not just the company or organization that is your employer. Massachusetts state law makes employers strictly liable for what their supervisors do, so if you prove a case against a supervisor then the employer is automatically liable. Federal law does not allow this. However, with a co-worker who is not a supervisor (for example, in a hostile work environment harassment case), the employer has to have known about it and refused to do anything before they are liable.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Massachusetts?
In Massachusetts, it is possible to file a discrimination claim either with the state administrative agency, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a "work-sharing agreement," which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to "cross-file" the claim with the other agency.
The Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 6 and 14 employees, you should file with the MCAD, as the EEOC enforces federal law, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency; however, some attorneys recommend that you file with the MCAD first for all types of discrimination claims.
To file a claim with the MCAD, contact the closest office below. More information about filing a claim with MCAD can be found at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination website.
Boston (main office)
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at the EEOC How to File page.
EEOC -- Boston Area Office
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
Do not delay in contacting the MCAD or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the MCAD (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. . To preserve your claim under federal law, generally you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 180 days from the date the discrimination took place. If a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination, then the deadline is extended to 300 days. For age discrimination claims, there must be state law that prohibits age discrimination and a state agency to enforce the law, for the 300 day extension to apply. (You cannot preserve your state claim by filing with the EEOC if over 180 days has passed; you can then proceed only with your federal claim). However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Massachusetts?
If your case is successfully resolved by the MCAD or EEOC, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the MCAD or EEOC, and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and the EEOC dismisses the charge. This process is called "exhaustion" of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you must file with the MCAD.
Because Massachusetts law does not limit or cap the damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, many Massachusetts attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law.
Once the EEOC issues the document known as "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" or "Notice of Right to Sue" (Form 161) only then can you file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) After your case has been pending with the MCAD for 90 days, then you may request a similar "right-to-sue" letter from MCAD to proceed with your state claim. A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed at least 30 days after MCAD dismisses your administrative claim and within 3 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against. These deadlines are called the "statute of limitations." If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.