What Does The Law Say


What are the laws in Maryland regarding sex discrimination in employment?


Sex discrimination is prohibited by the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, as well as by federal law.


Does the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act apply to my employer?


The Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act applies to almost all Maryland employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations. This law does not cover private membership clubs (other than labor unions) and elected officials. It also does not include religious corporations, associations, educational institutions or societies with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion or sexual orientation to perform its activities.


Under Maryland law, what is illegal?


"It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer: To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to the individual's compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, genetic information, or disability unrelated in nature and extent so as to reasonably preclude the performance of the employment...."


What is an employee under Maryland law?


Any individual that has an employer. Exceptions include elected officials and those appointed by elected officials, as well as aliens employed outside of the state.


What is an employer under Maryland law?


Maryland defines "employer" as "a person engaged in an industry or business who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person; such term does include the State of Maryland to the extent as may be provided in this article but such term does not include a bona fide private membership club (other than a labor organization) which is exempt from taxation under § 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code."


Are women a protected class?


Yes. The statute protects against discrimination based on an "individual's race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, genetic information, or disability unrelated in nature and extent so as to reasonably preclude the performance of the employment..."


Is there a federal law about sex discrimination?


Yes. Federal law prohibits sex discrimination by statute -- the statute is called Title VII. In Maryland, you may file a discrimination claim under Maryland law with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations or under federal law with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


For more information on federal laws, see Federal Law


Is it ever okay for my employer to treat or impact women differently because of their sex?


Maryland law prohibits discrimination based on gender so long as it is: "unrelated in nature and extent so as to reasonably preclude the performance of the employment"


Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?


Yes. Claims based on Maryland State law must be filed with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations within six months of the alleged discriminatory incident. If you are interested in bringing a federal claim, you must file with the EEOC within 180 days of the incident. The deadline is extended to 300 days if a state or local anti-discrimination law also covers the charge. The EEOC encourages bringing the claim at the earliest suspicion of discriminatory action.


What options do I have if my employer has fewer than 15 employees?


While Title VII and bulk of the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act do not apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees, you still have rights under Maryland law. Maryland courts have concluded that small employers are simply exempted from the administrative processes of the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, but not from the general public policy. The rule of 15 employees does not protect employers from legal action for discrimination; however, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations cannot accept claims against employers with fewer than 15 employees.


What is a tort?


A tort is a physical, emotional, or economic injury that a court will recognize and award damages for. Common examples include personal injury caused by medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or slander. Maryland tort law may offer relief for some forms of sex discrimination.


What rights do I have under Maryland tort law?


Sexual harassment, specifically, can include conduct that is covered by tort law. For example, if an employer touched you inappropriately, you could sue for battery.


"Abusive discharge" is a tort that is very important to understand in the context of Maryland employment discrimination. It provides remedy where it may not be available otherwise.


What is an abusive discharge?


Abusive discharge is a tort action that someone can bring if they were fired for a reason that is contrary to stated public policy. However, abusive discharge is limited to situations in which there is inadequate remedy under existing employment laws.


So how does abusive discharge apply to sex discrimination?


Both Title VII and the substantive portions Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) only cover employers with more than 15 employees. But the courts have held that the statement of purpose in the FEPA clarifies that any form of sex discrimination in employment is contrary to Maryland public policy. This gives you the right to sue your employer for sex discrimination if you work at business with less than 15 employees.


There may also be limited instances in which abusive discharge is available in the context of sexual harassment. See, Sexual Harassment for more information.


What are the time limits to file a lawsuit based on tort law?


Claims based on assault, libel, and slander must be filed within one year of the incident occurring. The time limit for all other torts that could be encountered in a sex discrimination context, including abusive discharge, is three years.


It is important to note that while they are often discussed together, assault and battery are separate causes of action. Battery is the intentional, unwanted, offensive touching of one by another, and assault is placing someone in immediate apprehension of a harmful contact. The statute of limitations for battery is three years.


I think I have been discriminated against; what are my options?


For more information about filing a complaint of discrimination and the relevant procedures, see How do I File a Claim.


For information regarding the different types of discrimination, see the Types of Discrimination the Law Covers.


It may be helpful to contact the Maryland Commission on Human Relations(MCHR) or the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). The MCHR can be contacted at toll free at (800) 637-6247. The EEOC can be contacted at (800) 669-4000.


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