Racial Discrimination in the Workplace - How to Take Action in Massachusetts


Area of Law: 


It is illegal in Massachusetts to discriminate based on race in the workplace.  Chapter 151B of the Massachusetts General Laws, also known as the Fair Employment Practices Law, seeks to ensure that no person suffers discrimination in the terms, conditions, or privileges of their employment because of their race. 


Section 4 outlines the unlawful practices.  They are what one would expect with regard to employment – no employer or labor organization may hire or accept members based upon race, nor may they make inquiries during the hiring process about an applicant’s race.  In addition, no employer or labor organization may discharge or expel an employee or member based upon his or her race.


How to Take Action


The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is an organization dedicated to the prevention of discrimination in Massachusetts.  In order to initiate the process of filing a claim, you must first file a complaint with MCAD, which will start with a private interview with an intake staff person.  After determining whether your case falls under MCAD’s jurisdiction, you will have another interview with an MCAD claim investigator, who will then draft and file a complaint on your behalf. 


MCAD will then obtain a statement from the allegedly discriminating company (the “Respondent”), and you will go to a meeting with MCAD staff and the Respondent to gather information and discuss a possible resolution without taking the case any further.  If a resolution cannot be reached, the MCAD claim investor will continue to gather information through document review and interviews to determine if there is probable cause to continue your case.


If the MCAD claim investigator finds that there is probable cause to support a conclusion that you have been unlawfully discriminated against, then your case will go to a hearing in front of one of three MCAD Commissioners who will serve as judges.  If no probable cause is found to continue your case, then it will be dismissed and you have ten days to appeal the dismissal at an informal hearing.  If the lack of probable cause finding is sustained, then the case is closed.


At the hearing, the MCAD Commissioner will hear the arguments of both sides, review the legal briefs submitted and issue a decision in favor of you or the Respondent.  If the Commissioner finds for the Respondent, then the case is dismissed.  If the Commissioner finds for you, then he or she may issue awards of back pay and distress damages.  MCAD also has the discretion to assess reasonable attorney fees.  This decision is enforceable and treated as if it were a decree made by any other Massachusetts court.


Where Can I Find More Information About MCAD?


You can check their website, or visit any of the four offices – located in Boston, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester.  Offices are open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM each day.


MCAD recommends that anyone pursuing an employment discrimination claim bring any relevant names, addresses or telephone numbers to their interview.  This is not just in reference to people directly involved in the discrimination, but anyone who can help them investigate your case as well.  You should also bring the allegedly discriminating employer’s name, address, and parent company information.