If you have experienced discrimination in Massachusetts and want to litigate the case, the first step is to file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), the government civil rights agency tasked with eliminating discrimination in the Commonwealth.What Kinds of Cases are Filed at the MCAD?
The MCAD has jurisdiction over claims brought under various Massachusetts laws:
Employment Discrimination: Mass. G.L.c. 151B prohibits employers with more six or more employees from discriminating based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, ancestry, age, or active military status. That law also requires employers to provide religious accommodations for employees, prohibits retaliation against employees who complaint of discrimination in the workplace, and prohibits sexual harassment.
Maternity Leave: The MCAD enforces Massachusetts laws granting female employees in places of business with six or more employees eight (8) weeks of unpaid maternity leave (Mass. G.L.c. 149, § 105D, Mass. G.L.c. 151B, § 4(11A)).
Education: Mass. G.L.c. 151C prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of race, religion, creed, color, national origin, age, sex, blindness, deafness, or criminal record. The law also prohibits sexual harassment in education and requires religious accommodation.
Housing & Lead Paint: Mass. G.L.c. 151B prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, children, military service, public assistance, veteran status, genetic information, and gender identity. It also prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation in housing decisions. Mass. G.L.c. 111, § 199A makes it illegal for anyone to refuse to sell, lease, or rent to someone because that transaction would trigger their responsibilities under the lead paint laws.
Mortgage Lending: Mass. G.L. c. 151B, § 4 (3B) prohibits discrimination in mortgage lending based on race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, children, national origin, genetic information, ancestry, age or disability.
Credit: Mass. G.L. c. 151B, § 4 (14) prohibits discrimination in the furnishing of credit services based on sex, gender identity, marital status, age or sexual orientation.
Public Accommodation: Under Mass. G.L. c. 272, § 98 no person may discriminate against another person with respect to access to or treatment in a place of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, deafness, blindness, any physical or mental disability, or ancestry. Nor may a place of public accommodation issue any advertisement discriminating against people on the basis of religion, class, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, deafness or blindness, or any physical or mental disability (Mass G.L. c. 272, § 92A). Finally, all places of public accommodation must allow disabled persons with guide dogs equal access to other persons (Mass G.L. c. 272, § 98A).
Before you can bring a lawsuit claiming discrimination under one of these laws, you first have to file a complaint with the MCAD.How do I File a Complaint with the MCAD?
You must file the complaint within 300 days of the discriminatory action. This is a short window, so it is important that you act quickly if you believe you have been subject to discrimination. An attorney can represent you in your case before the MCAD, and we suggest you consult with one of our attorneys before filing your MCAD complaint. In the complaint you must allege all of the acts of discrimination that you believe have occurred; failure to include acts of discrimination will bar you from later filing a lawsuit or complaint about those acts. Our attorneys can help you draft the complaint to make the strongest case in your favor.
Once you have filed the complaint with the MCAD it will send that complaint to the respondent – the person or entity you allege discriminated against you. The MCAD will then conduct an investigation into the alleged discrimination. The respondent will submit a statement, and a meeting will be held at the MCAD to determine if the parties can voluntarily resolve the issue. If they cannot, the MCAD investigator will continue the investigation by interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence. At the end of the investigation the investigator will determine either that there is probable cause to believe there was discrimination, or that there is lack of probable cause. If the investigator determines there is a lack of probable cause the complainant can appeal that decision, if it is upheld the case is closed at the MCAD. If the MCAD determines there is probable cause, the case moves on to a public hearing. At that hearing either your own lawyer, if you have one, or the MCAD’s lawyer, if you do not, represents you and the MCAD. If the MCAD Commissioner finds for the Respondent, the case is concluded at the MCAD. If the MCAD finds for the complainant, it can award damages, including attorney’s fees.Can I Sue in Court?
If you believe you have a claim under one of the laws listed above, you are required to first take your complaint to the MCAD before you can bring a lawsuit. Ninety days after you have filed your complaint with the MCAD you are permitted to withdraw it and file the case in court if you prefer (Mass. G. L. c. 151B, § 9). Our attorneys can help you think through the benefits and drawbacks of litigating your case at the MCAD, in state court, and in federal court.
If you have a complaint to file with the MCAD, contact us at (617) 742-6020 for an attorney who can assist you.