Area of Law:
The state of Maine is an at-will employment state. This means that either you or your employer can begin or terminate a work agreement at any time, for any reason. It is important to remember, however, that this does not affect your statutory rights. At-will employment may sound as though your employer could give just about any reason to justify terminating you, but this is not the case; you are specifically protected from being fired on discriminatory grounds based on your race, skin color, ethnicity, or country of national origin. This means that if you have been terminated for what you believe are race-related reasons, you can file a complaint against your employer. You can also file a complaint if you have faced workplace discrimination in some other way, be it with unfair pay or racially motivated policies.
In the state of Maine, there is also a statute covering general whistleblower protection. Under the Whistleblowers' Protection Act, you are protected from retaliation if you bring a violation of the law to the attention of the authorities. You cannot be punished for defending your civil rights, which means that if you report an incident of workplace racial discrimination, your employer cannot fire you, dock your pay, demote you, or otherwise affect your workplace experience. You have the right to work in an environment where you feel comfortable and equal, and if your employer has created a hostile work environment as a result of your efforts to seek justice on a racial discrimination claim, that in itself is a violation and you can have this added to your complaint.
Filing a discrimination claim in Maine can be done either at the state level by contacting the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) or at the federal level through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You do not have to contact both agencies as there is an information-sharing agreement between the two organizations to help better the processing of your complaint. Therefore, all you have to do is tell one organization that you want to cross-file with the other one, and everything will be taken care of without any further intervention on your part.
The EEOC covers employers with 15 or more employees, so if your workplace is smaller than that, you will only be able to file at the state level. Although, even if your workplace contains more than 15 employees, your lawyer may still advise you to file with the MHRC as the closest EEOC office is located in Boston, MA, making it less convenient for Maine residents to file a federal claim.
You should not wait to file your discrimination claim as both the MHRC and the EEOC have statutes of limitations on the amount of time that you can wait to make a complaint. With the MHRC, you have six months, and with the EEOC, you have 180 days. There may be other legal deadlines that you need to adhere to, however, so it's best to file as soon as you can.