The Official Website of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD)

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Frequently Asked Questions

Discrimination

What is Discrimination?
Discrimination is unfair treatment because of an individual's membership in a particular group.

What groups are covered under Massachusetts civil rights laws?
Massachusetts civil rights law protects individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, mortgage lending, credit, and education. Each of these areas offers protections to particular groups. For more information, see Are You In Need of Our Services?

I think I've been discriminated against, but I'm not sure how. Can you tell me what is considered discrimination?
In the employment context, discrimination begins with an "adverse employment action": something an employer does that hurts an employee, such as terminating the employee, not selecting the employee for a promotion, giving the employee a poor evaluation, harassing the employee with derogatory remarks or behaviors, or denying the employee's request for an accommodation of a disability. If you believe the adverse employment action happened to you because of your race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender identity, age, criminal record (inquiries only), disability, sexual orientation, genetics, active military personnel, or past involvement in a discrimination complaint, it could be discrimination. If the adverse action happened to various people from all different backgrounds, it may not be discrimination, and other agencies may be able to assist you.

In the housing, public accommodation, mortgage lending, or credit context, discrimination begins when a landlord, realtor, store employee, service provider, or lender treats one individual differently than others because of his or her membership in a particular group, such as race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, children, past involvement in a discrimination complaint, veteran status, or status as a recipient of public assistance. If you believe you have been treated differently than others because of your membership in one of these groups, it could be discrimination. If you feel you were treated unfairly, but it was not because of your membership in a group, it may not be discrimination, and other agencies may be able to assist you. For more information about housing discrimination, see our Unlawful Discrimination in Housing Quick Reference Guide

Filing a Complaint

How do I know if my employer is covered by state discrimination laws?
If you are a part- or full-time employee at a workplace that employs at least six part- or full-time employees, then your employer is covered. If you have questions about this, you can raise them when you come to file a complaint.

How do I know if I should file a complaint?
If you believe you have experienced discrimination within the last 300 days, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is available to assist you. If you visit one of our offices and meet with an intake worker, he or she will explain to you what kind of evidence you will need to prove that discrimination occurred.

How do I file a complaint?
You can file a complaint in person in either the Boston or Springfield, Worcester and New Bedford office. No appointment is necessary. For information about each office's hours and directions to each office, please see the Hours and Directions page. Please review the Questionnaires and complete any that are relevant to your complaint. 

Can I file a complaint over the phone?
The MCAD will generally require an in person consultation for intake on non-housing cases unless you require a reasonable accommodation. If you require a reasonable accommodation, please call any of our offices to set up an appointment. For housing complaints, please call our main line and select the housing information line to set up a housing intake.

Do you accept complaints by mail?
Yes. The MCAD will accept complaints by mail as long as they comply with MCAD requirements for filing a complaint. However, we have found that an in-person meeting with an intake worker produces the most thorough information gathering. However, if you are represented by an attorney, he or she can mail in a complaint accompanied by a self-stamped envelope.

Can I file a complaint if I am not a U.S. citizen?
Your rights are not affected by your immigration status. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will not question your citizenship or request a copy of your documentation.

How much time do I have to file a complaint?
If you are filing a complaint about employment discrimination, you have 300 days from the date of the most recent incident of discrimination you believe you experienced. For example, Alicia is being harassed on the job because she is an immigrant from Cuba. On February 1, her locker was spray painted with a slur about Cubans. On March 1, her supervisor made insulting remarks about Cubans. The last incident happened on April 1, when Alicia's coworker told an offensive joke that mocked individuals with accents. Alicia has 300 days from April 1 to file a complaint. Alicia must come to the MCAD to file her complaint by February 1 of the following year. If you are filing a complaint about housing discrimination, you have one year from the date of the most recent incident of discrimination you believe you experienced.

How much will it cost to file a complaint?
There is no fee to file a complaint. You may decide to seek an attorney to represent you in the process. If so, the attorney will discuss with you what his or her fee will be. However, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination never collects a fee from someone who files a complaint.

What happens after I file my complaint?
Once your complaint is filed, your case will be assigned to an investigator. The investigator will contact you for more information about the case. The investigator may contact you to set up an "Investigative Conference" with the parties to learn more about the case, identify the issues in dispute, discuss possible available evidence, and explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

After I file my complaint, when will I hear from the Commission?
When you file a complaint at the Commission, your intake worker will give you a date for an investigative conference. You will be expected to attend the conference to explain your allegations.

I attended my investigative conference. When will I hear from the Commission about whether probable cause is found on my case?
The Commission expects to complete each case investigation within 18 months of filing. If probable cause is found ("probable cause" means it is more likely than not that discrimination occurred), you will proceed to the next stages of the complaint process, including opportunities for settlement and perhaps a public hearing.

Can I get in trouble or get fired for filing a complaint?
You have the right to file a complaint based on information you believe to be true, and it is unlawful to retaliate against you even if your belief was mistaken. The Commission notifies the organization named in your complaint of this provision of the law when it serves your charge. If you experience any form of retaliation after filing a complaint, we encourage you to contact your investigator immediately. If you experience retaliation after serving as a witness to someone else's complaint or speaking up about issues of discrimination in your workplace, you may file a complaint about the retaliation at the Commission just as you would file any other complaint of discrimination.

How much money am I entitled to if I win?
If your case results in a finding of discrimination, you may be awarded attorney's fees, back pay, front pay, emotional distress damages, and/or interest. The amount to be paid to the person who experienced discrimination varies depending on the nature of the case and how severe the discrimination was. Payments can range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, discrimination is very difficult to prove, and most cases do not result in a discrimination finding or any payment to the complainant.

Do I need a lawyer to file a complaint?
No. It is optional to have a lawyer during the initial stages of the process. If you wish to retain an attorney, the Commission will work with your lawyer as we process the case. If "probable cause" is found at the investigation stage ("probable cause" means it is more likely than not that discrimination occurred), you may choose to have one of the Commission's staff attorneys represent you during later stages of the process.

Can you recommend a good lawyer for me?
The MCAD cannot make referrals to attorneys. However, other organizations do
provide referrals, such as the Massachusetts Bar Association. Also see the
Filing A ComplaintNotice brochure.

The MCAD

Where is the MCAD located?
We have three offices. One located in Boston, one in Springfield and one in Worcester and one in New Bedford office.

What are your hours?
The MCAD office is open from 8:45 a.m. -5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Complaints are taken Monday -Friday, 8:45 a.m. -4:00 p.m.

What should I bring with me?
You should bring with you any relevant names, addresses, or telephone numbers, witnesses' names, and any other paperwork that will help investigate and establish your allegation of unlawful discrimination. You should also be able to give the date the alleged discrimination occurred.

For an employment case: You should have your employer's name, address, the approximate number of employees and the name of the parent company, if applicable.

For a housing case: Supply the landlord's or property manager's name, the real estate company's name, or the real estate agent's name, if appropriate.

For public accommodations: Bring the name of the owner or manager of the establishment.

Are there Federal agencies that protect my rights in employment and housing?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which can be reached at 617-565-3200 and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 617-565-5320. 5320.

Where can I get a copy of MCAD's rules and regulations?
The MCAD's regulations are available online, or for purchase at: State Bookstore, Room 116, State House, Boston, MA 02133, (617) 727-2834 or Western Office of the Massachusetts Secretary of State, 436 Dwight Street, Springfield, MA 01103, (413) 784-1376

Maternity Leave and Pregnancy

What is my employer's responsibility regarding maternity leave?
For more information about employer's responsibilities regarding maternity leave, please read the section of this site about the MCAD's Maternity Leave Guidelines. The guidelines explain how much time off you may be entitled to, your rights to pay and benefits during your leave, and your responsibilities regarding leave.

Can an employer refuse to hire or promote me, change my working conditions, or fire me because I am pregnant?
Employment decisions based solely on pregnancy are unlawful.

Training

How do I Train Employees?
A pamphlet describing the MCAD’s training services and a training request form is available by clicking the “Training and Outreach” tab above. The MCAD can also provide a list of other available trainers to interested employers by contacting the Training Unit Assistant at 617-994-6072 or Training.Assistant@state.ma.us.

Are Massachusetts employers required to provide discrimination prevention training to their employees?
Massachusetts General Law 151B section 3a strongly encourages employers to provide sexual harassment training for all new employees within one year of hire and/or within one year of assuming a new supervisory position. Providing such training may help mitigate liability should harassment occur. Harassment prevention training should address not only sexual harassment, but all forms of discriminatory harassment covered under state law. The MCAD can provide a list of harassment prevention trainers to interested employers by contacting the Training Unit Assistant at 617-994-6072 or Training.Assistant@state.ma.us.

Are Massachusetts employers required to provide sexual harassment prevention training to their employees?
While the MCAD strongly encourages employers to provide prevention training regarding other forms of discrimination, including disparate treatment and reasonable accommodation, there is no Massachusetts law regarding such training. Ensuring that all employees receive an overview of their rights and responsibilities within one year of hire and/or within one year of assuming a new supervisory position may help mitigate liability should discrimination occur. The MCAD can provide a list of discrimination prevention trainers to interested employers by contacting the Training Unit Assistant at 617-994-6072 or Training.Assistant@state.ma.us.