Massachusetts has always been a pioneer in the promulgation and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. In 1855, the Commonwealth enacted laws forbidding discrimination in public education, and then ten years later it became one of the first states to enact laws prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.
In 1944, in response to the findings of a legislative commission set up to investigate the problem of discrimination in Massachusetts, Governor Maurice Tobin appointed a four-member committee to study ways of combating discrimination. After much deliberation, the committee recommended that Massachusetts establish a Commission, as the state of New York had done just a few years earlier, with the power to enforce laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religious creed, national origin, or ancestry.
In 1946, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill creating the Fair Employment Practice Act and an agency to enforce it: the Fair Employment Practices Commission. The new Commission began work with only two full time employees and three volunteer Commissioners. With modest resources and few powers to bring about compliance, the agency focused primarily on holding hearings and educating the public. In its first year, the Commission took 96 complaints, conducted 60 interviews, handled 500 phone inquiries, and answered over 1,000 requests for information by mail.
In 1950, the Commission's name was changed to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), reflecting the expansion of its jurisdiction to include discrimination in housing and public accommodations. Not only was its jurisdiction broadened, but it's power to enforce a finding was also widened.
Since then, the MCAD's mandate has grown considerably. In 1965, gender was added to the Commission's list of protected classes, opening up a huge new front in the battle against discrimination. Protection for families with children and recipients of public assistance came in 1972 and 1973. In 1975, a law was enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of age. Discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation was added to the Commission's jurisdiction in 1984 and 1989 respectively, while increased attention to the issue of sexual harassment generated a large number of complaints. Moreover, the Commission's expanded jurisdiction to award emotional distress damages, back pay, and legal costs contributed to the dramatic increase in filings.
After more than fifty years on the forefront of discrimination law enforcement, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination handled more than 8000 complaints in 1998 and 1999. The agency strives to innovate, wherever possible, pioneering proactive measures, while reaching out to citizens and businesses alike in order to meet the ever increasing demand for it's services. Partnerships with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now account for more than half of the Commission's operating budget and partnerships with municipal human rights commissions bring MCAD services to local communities across the state.