Massachusetts law about discrimination

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on discrimination law by the Trial Court Law Libraries.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.4, § 7 (clauses 62 & 63) Defines protective hairstyles historically associated with race. See also the "CROWN Act" St.2022, c.117 (effective October 24, 2022)

MGL c.93, § 102 & § 103 Mass. Equal Rights Act (MERA)

MGL c.149, §§ 105A-C Discriminatory wage rates based on sex

MGL c.151B Unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry or sex

MGL c.272, § 92A Advertisement, book, notice or sign relative to discrimination; definition of place of public accommodation, resort or amusement

MGL c.272, § 98 Discrimination in admission to, or treatment in, place of public accommodation; punishment; forfeiture; civil right

Selected federal laws

Laws enforced by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services.
A link to the US Code and a summary of the law with helpful links. 

Massachusetts regulations

804 CMR Mass. Commission Against Discrimination

Selected case law

Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC, 477 Mass. 456 (2017)
An employee who has been fired for using medical marijuana off-site, and not before or during work, may sue her employer for handicap discrimination.

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, __ U.S. __ (June 15, 2020)
The US Supreme Court held that "an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]."

Brookline v. Alston, 487 Mass. 278 (2021)
"The Civil Service Commission, in the context of its analysis whether a tenured firefighter was fired without just cause in violation of basic merit principles, could consider evidence of discriminatory or retaliatory conduct more typically addressed in the context of a claim under G. L. c. 151B."

Bulwer v. Mount Auburn Hospital, 473 Mass. 672 (2016)
"Massachusetts is a pretext only jurisdiction." "The plaintiff employee need only present evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that the defendant employer's facially proper reasons given for its action against the plaintiff were not the real reasons for that action... To survive a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff need only present evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that "the respondent's facially proper reasons given for its action against him were not the real reasons for that action."

Charles v. Leo, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 326 (2019)
Discusses how a court should decide whether punitive damages are excessive. Includes jury instruction on punitive damages from Haddad v. Wal-Mart, 455 Mass. 91 (2009). 

Comm. v. Long, 485 Mass. 711 (2020)
Pretextual traffic stops and racial profiling.

Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C., 596 US __ (2022)
Supreme Court held that emotional distress damages are not recoverable for victims of discrimination.

Flagg v. AliMed Inc. , 466 Mass. 23 (2013)
SJC ruling approving an associational discrimination claim under the state’s non-discrimination statute, the Fair Employment Practices Act, or FEPA. View the case, the briefs and the oral arguments.

Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. 557 US 167 (2009)
Supreme Court held that a "plaintiff bringing an ADEA disparate-treatment claim must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that age was the “but-for” cause of the challenged adverse employment action...Unlike Title VII, which has been amended to explicitly authorize discrimination claims where an improper consideration was “a motivating factor” for the adverse action,... the ADEA does not provide that a plaintiff may establish discrimination by showing that age was simply a motivating factor."

Joule, Inc. v. Simmons, 459 Mass. 88 (2011)
Arbitration clause does not preclude MCAD proceeding.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et al., __ U.S. __ (2018)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. But the decision was based on very narrow grounds and left the larger free speech issue of whether business owners have a right to refuse service to same-sex couples undecided.

McDonough, petitioner, 457 Mass. 512 (2010)
"(1) where a witness with a disability requests accommodation in order to testify, Mass. Equal Rights Act requires that the court provide such accommodation, so long as it is "reasonable," G.L. c. 93, § 103(a); (2) where there is a dispute concerning such a witness's request for accommodation, a judge should conduct a hearing to resolve the dispute, preferably before trial, and the witness should be provided with reasonable accommodation, if available, during the pretrial hearing; and (3) where a judge precludes a witness with a disability from testifying by denying a request for accommodation, the party proffering the witness, but not the witness, may appeal the judge's interlocutory ruling as a matter of right to the Appeals Court."

Thurdin v. SEI Boston, LLC, 452 Mass. 436 (2008)
An employee of a business with fewer than six employees (who is thus unable to sue under MGL c.151B) can sue for employment discrimination under a provision of the the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act (MGL c. 93, § 102).

Williams v. Kincaid, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit (2022), WL 3364824
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects transgender people from discrimination. The ADA covers “gender dysphoria” a “discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person's gender identity and that person's sex assigned at birth.” This case involves a transgender woman who was placed in a men’s prison where she was denied hormone therapy and suffered harassment. The ruling applies also to workplace and public accommodations.

Yee v. Mass. State Police, 481 Mass. 290 (2019)
Denial of a lateral transfer to a preferred position "may constitute an adverse employment action within the meaning of G. L. c. 151B."

Web sources

Civil rights for individuals and advocates, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. 
Laws against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and religion by certain health care and human services. 

CORI procedure reforms fact sheet, Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (2010).
Outlines questions employers may and may not ask about a job applicant's or employee's criminal record.

Federal antidiscrimination laws, Nolo.
Lists the major federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination.  

A handbook on the legal obligations and rights of public and assisted housing providers under federal and state fair housing law for applicants and tenants with disabilities, Mass. Housing, July 2015.
Explains fair housing / discrimination law to landlords, including: how to market your apartment legally, communication with prospective tenants, dealing with families and children, explanation of disabilities and the rights of the disabled, and more.

Inferring pretext in employment discrimination cases, Conforto Law Group, 2016.
Lists 13 ways in which pretext for unlawful employment discrimination may be inferred, with helpful links to the relevant cases.

“Know your rights: workplace discrimination is illegal,” EEOC.
Includes printable posters with info on discriminatory practices and what to do.

Massachusetts Equal Pay Law, Mass. Attorney General.
As of July 1, 2018, the equal pay law provides more clarity as to what constitutes unlawful wage discrimination and adds protections to ensure greater fairness and equity in the workplace. The Attorney General's Office has issued guidance and resources to assist employers in complying with the law, and has a link to file a complaint.

MCAD guidelines, model policies, and posters, Mass. Commission Against Discrimination.
The MCAD publishes Guidelines to provide the public with the Commission's interpretation of the application statutes on employment discrimination, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and public accommodation.

Overview of types of discrimination in Massachusetts, Mass. Commission Against Discrimination. 
Education, Employment, Credit & Lending, Housing, Public Places (Places of Public Accommodation).

Protections against employment discrimination for service members and veterans, EEOC, 2022.
This document helps explain where to get help if you are a service member or veteran and you feel that you have been discriminated against in employment because of your military status, veteran status, or another protected.

Proving "but for" causation after Nassar, Robert S. Mantell, 2016.
"It can be difficult to prove that the discrimination was the “but for” cause of an eventual rejection" before hiring. "One type of analysis, called “a motivating factor” analysis, permits a finding of liability, upon proof that an unlawful motive was a factor in the hiring process, even if that motive did not make a difference in the ultimate employment decision." Under Nassar, though, "proof of retaliatory bias is insufficient to establish liability, absent evidence that the ultimate rejection would not have occurred “but for” that bias." 

Workplace accommodation toolkit, Job Accommodation Network.
This online toolkit, funded by the US Dept. of Labor, helps employers ensure disability-inclusive workplaces. It "centralizes resources and guidance related to reasonable accommodations, including sample policies, templates and checklists, as well as training videos and access to thousands of specific accommodation ideas."

Print sources

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Last updated: November 15, 2022
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