What Does The Law Say?

 

a. Where is the law regarding sex discrimination in employment in Massachusetts found?

 

b. To whom does Chapter 151B apply?

 

c. Under Chapter 151B, what is illegal?

 

d. What is an "employee" under this law?

 

e. What is an "employer" this law?

 

f. Are women a "protected class"?

 

g. Is there a federal law about sex discrimination?

 

h. How does the state law compare with federal in terms of coverage?

 

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

 

j. In a nutshell, what must I prove to win my case?

 

k. What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to its denials?

 

l. Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?

 

m. What options do I have if I my employer has fewer than 6 employees?

 

n. Who enforces the law?

 

o. How do I file a claim of sex discrimination with MCAD?

 

p. Does Massachusetts have local ordinances and can I use them?

 

a. Where is the law regarding sex discrimination in employment in Massachusetts found?
Sex discrimination is prohibited in Massachusetts by Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B.

 

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b. To whom does Chapter 151B apply?
Chapter 151B covers "employers," which is defined as any company or individual who employs six or more persons. Under the statute, "employee" means anyone who performs work for pay, unless that person is employed by her parents, spouse or child, or works in a domestic capacity, as a housekeeper or a nanny, for example.

 

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c. Under Massachusetts law, what is illegal?
Chapter 151B. makes it unlawful for any employer to discriminate on the basis of sex in hiring and firing, compensation, or the "terms, conditions or privileges of employment." The only situation where an employer may discriminate is if the employer can establish that it is based on a "bona fide occupational qualification." The statute also prohibits sexual harassment, as well as retaliation for reporting discrimination or filing a complaint. Chapter 151B also states that certain modes of employee classification are not prohibited, such as seniority systems.

 

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d. What is an "employee" under this law?
An employee is anyone who performs work for pay. However, certain classes of employees are not covered by the Massachusetts law, including individuals who are employed by their parent, spouse or child, and employees who work in domestic service (for instance, a housekeeper would not be covered).

 

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e. What is an "employer" this law?
An employer is any company or individual that employers six or more individuals.

 

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f. Are women a "protected class"?
Yes. All sex discrimination is prohibited by Chapter 151B), regardless of whether the victim is male or female, but women are considered a protected class.

 

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g. Is there a federal law about sex discrimination?
Yes. Federal law prohibits sex discrimination by statute – the statute is called Title VII. In Massachusetts, you may file a discrimination claim under both Chapter 151B and Title VII.

 

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h. How does the state law compare with federal in terms of coverage?
Massachusetts law provides broader coverage than Title VII in several ways. First, Chapter 151Bcovers more employers than Title VII, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. Title VII also places limits on how much you can obtain in damages, but Chapter 151B has no limits. Also, in Massachusetts, individuals can be sued under the "aiding and abetting" provision. This section has been used to sue co-workers for sexual harassment and supervisors who fail to investigate reports of discrimination.

 

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i. Is it ever okay for my employer to treat or impact women differently because of their sex?
In some limited cases, yes. If your employer can show that there was a legitimate business reason, sometimes called a legitimate business necessity, to treat you differently because of your sex, then that conduct will not be considered discrimination. However, these reasons are not common and "any old reason" won’t suffice – these reasons are difficult to establish.

 

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j. In a nutshell, what must I prove to win my case?
You must prove that you were treated differently because of your sex and not for any other reason. For instance, if you were fired, you have to prove that you were fired because you are a woman, and not because your work was unacceptable. In any discrimination case, you will have the ultimate responsibility of persuading the judge or jury that there was discrimination against you based on your sex.

 

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k. What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to its denials?
In Massachusetts, courts use a three-step analysis to evaluate discrimination cases. First, you must present initial evidence of discrimination – for this step, the court will assume that everything you allege is true, and if it is sufficient to show that discrimination took place, the case will continue. Next, your employer will be allowed to explain why its conduct was not discriminatory. Finally, you must rebut your employer’s explanation.

 

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l. Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?
Yes. In Massachusetts, you are required to file your complaint within 300 days of the discriminatory conduct. This is called the statute of limitations. If you file your complaint after 300 days have elapsed, you will not be able to sue. A partial exception to this is where the discriminatory conduct is part of a pattern of conduct – if you can show this, all that you have to show is that at least one instance of discrimination occurred within the 300 days before you file your claim.

 

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m. What options do I have if I my employer has fewer than 6 employees?
Unless your claim is for equal pay or sexual harassment, you have no legal options under Chapter 151B. (If your claim is sexual harassment, click here. If your claim is unequal pay, click here. ) However, you may have options outside the legal realm. There may also be legal options available to you through common law tort claims, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress or wrongful termination.

 

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n. Who enforces the law?
Chapter 151B is administered by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). All discrimination claims under Chapter 151B must be filed with MCAD before any court proceeding can occur. MCAD investigates every report and determines if there is "probable cause" to believe that discrimination has occurred – this means that it is more likely than not that you have been the victim of discrimination. For more information on MCAD procedures, click here.

 

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o. If I prove my sex discrimination claim, what kind of remedies am I entitled to?
Women who sue under Chapter 151B can get a variety of different remedies, including: back pay (for lost wages or failure to hire), reinstatement (for failure to promote or wrongful discharge) and injunctive relief (e.g. a cease-and-desist order to the employer). In addition, courts also award compensatory damages for victims’ emotional distress and suffering, as well as, in some particularly egregious cases, punitive damages. Ch. 151B also provides that plaintiffs who prevail will be awarded attorneys’ fees and costs.

 

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p. Does Massachusetts have local ordinances and can I use them?
Some cities, such as Boston, do have local ordinances and you can sue under the local ordinances in the Superior Courts. However, you must always contact the MCADfirst. Then, after filing your claim initially with the MCAD you can decide whether or not you want to drop that investigation and pursue a claim under the local ordinance. (Remember that once you drop you claim at the MCAD, you are barred from brining that claim again.) This is a personal choice and a representative at MCAD can help you make that decision. The local ordinances simply give you another avenue to seek relief from discrimination.

 


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