Two of the most common cases of Employment Law in Massachusetts is that of employment discrimination and harassment. Discrimination and harassment are proved different ways, but they are handled through the same legal channels.
Types of discrimination
There are many types of discrimination, but only some are considered unlawful. For example, in federal law, only people over the age of forty are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). It doesn't mean that sometimes younger people aren't treated differently because of their age; it just means that a young person can't bring a federal suit for age discrimination.
Forms of federally prohibited discrimination include:
- sex, including gender identity, and sexual orientation related to sex-stereotyping
- national origin
- age (over 40)
- genetic information
An employer also may not retaliate against an employee because they brought a discrimination claim or engaged in other protected activity.
Massachusetts law goes further to protect against discrimination. Prohibited forms depend on the situation, listed on the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination's website.
Prohibited discrimination that protect job seekers and employees include:
- mental illness
- active military
Definition of harassment
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is, “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
Harassment is not always unlawful, though. Breaking down the EEOC's definition, to be actionable the harassment must be:
- unwelcome conduct
- based on a protected status, like race or sex
- either enduring it is a condition of employment, i.e. a woman's boss threatens to fire her if she does not allow him to touch her inappropriately, or
- must be severe or pervasive and create an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment.
The path to court
With discrimination and harassment claims, the case does not start in court. Instead, it begins with the state agency if there is one; in Massachusetts, a complaint is filed with MCAD or with the EEOC. The two agencies work together so filing with one means you file with both. Generally, one may not file a court case alleging discrimination or harassment until the EEOC has dismissed the case. There are some exceptions, however, such as lawsuits under the equal pay act. Once the EEOC issues a right to sue letter, one must bring a lawsuit within 90 days.
Discrimination and harrassment claims can be complicated, and it is important to meet all deadlines, like the 90 day deadline above. An experienced employment law attorney can help navigate the process efficiently and effectively. If you would like to learn more about discrimination and harassment laws in Massachustts, contact us to schedule a consultation.