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Employment Discrimination




Constitutional Rights


How do I prove that I was discriminated against?
How do I prove that I was discriminated against? You may have been discriminated against if you have been treated differently and unfairly because you are a member of a certain group or class of people. Discrimination may be proven any number of ways, such as with statistical data, historical data, documentation that evidences a pattern and practice of such actions, statements made to you that indicate a discriminatory motive, the timing of events, etc.

In employments, those classes include race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, genetics or past involvement in a discrimination complaint.

In housing, those classes include race color religion, national origin, ancestry, sex age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, children, past involvement in a discrimination complaint, veteran's status or status as a recipient of public assistance.

How do I file a discrimination claim?
You must file a charge of discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) with 300 days of the last adverse act, or you could lose your ability to file a claim. If you wish to file a claim, an intake worker at the MCAD can assist you at any of the offices in Boston, Springfield, Worcester or New Bedford. Although you do not to retain a lawyer to file a claim of discrimination, it is advisable to seek legal counsel to assist you in proving your claim.

Employment Discrimination

I am being harassed at work by co-workers. What can I do?
Massachusetts and federal laws protect the rights of employees to work free of harassment that is based on the employees' category, such as race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation. If you are harassed in a more general sense or experience a personality conflict, that may not fall under harassment laws. If the harassment you are experiencing is sexual in nature then you may have a right to complain of sexual harassment.

Regardless of the type of harassment, immediately report it to your supervisor. If the harasser is your supervisor, report the matter to human resources, or any other appropriate management official. Management is obligated to conduct a full, impartial investigation into your claim. If you are not satisfied with management's response, you should seek the opinion of a lawyer, or consult with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

I was laid off from work and my employer hired a younger person to do my job. Is this age discrimination?
As with many legal questions, the answer is "maybe." A lawyer would need more information to know for sure. If you are 40 years or older, you are considered to be among the protected class of older workers. However, to prove a claim of age discrimination, you must prove that your employer replaced you with a younger worker because your employer either preferred not to employ older workers, or preferred the younger worker with no rational basis. To develop a claim, therefore, you must consider your employment history and the employment history of the younger worker. You may have direct evidence of age discrimination, such as comments from your supervisor, but even if you do not, evidence of discrimination can often be found through indirect other methods. Employment lawyers are trained to provide advice concerning this particular situation.


Who is protected from housing discrimination?
The federal Fair Housing Act and the Fair Housing Amendment Acts protect against discrimination. Housing cannot be denied because you are a member of a certain group or class of people. Those classes include race color religion, national origin, ancestry, sex age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, children, past involvement in a discrimination complaint, veteran's status or status as a recipient of public assistance.

If I believe I was denied housing because of discrimination, what should I do?
See "How do I file a discrimination claim?" above.

What are the legal reasons a landlord can reject a prospective tenant?
A landlord can reject a tenant for several legal reasons, including credit history, income, bankruptcy, pets, history of non-payment of rent and references.


Do federal discrimination laws extend to private schools?
Where a private school's programs or activities receive federal financial assistance, federal anti-discrimination laws protect the students in that private school from discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, ancestry or disability.

My child and I are not U.S. citizens. Can he attend public school?
Yes, children who are not U.S. citizens have the legal right to attend public school.

How can parents make sure schools treat their children fairly?
Educate yourself about your child's right to equal educational opportunities. As soon as possible, raise with your child's school any treatment you believe is unfair or discriminatory. Ask the school principal to promptly address any treatment you believe is discriminatory, based on your child's sex, race, color, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or disability. Confirm any complaint or report to the school in writing. You may also file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, United States Department of Education, (617) 289-0111, claiming discrimination or harassment based on sex, race, color, national origin, ancestry or disability. You will need to file a complaint with OCR in writing within 180 calendar days of the date of the alleged discrimination. OCR may waive its 180 day time-limit based on OCR policies and procedures. You may also file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, claiming discrimination or harassment based on sex, race, color, national origin or religion.

My child is being bullied? What do I do?
As soon as possible, report the bullying behavior to a school administrator. It's recommended that a parent or guardian confirm any complaint or report of bullying in writing. Try to keep a written log of all incidents and school contacts. If the problem persists, ask to meet with the school principal to explain your continued concerns. If you believe your concerns are not being addressed adequately, ask to meet with the school superintendent. You may also file a formal complaint about bullying, discrimination, or discriminatory harassment with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Program Quality Assurance Services, Problem Resolution System, (781) 338-3700.

Click here to learn more about Massachusetts laws on bullying and cyberbullying.


What is the difference between defamation, libel & slander?
As a general matter, libel concerns false statements which appear in writing while slander typically refers to false oral statements. Defamation is generally understood to be the umbrella which covers both libel and slander.

Can an opinion be defamatory?
Yes. While statements of pure opinion are typically considered protected speech, if an opinion is based upon an undisclosed false fact, it can be actionable.

Can I sue someone who says or writes something defamatory about me?
In many circumstances, yes. Certain speech is privileged or otherwise subject to a qualified or absolute protection.  

Can I express my opinion without fear of being sued for libel or slander?
Pure opinion is protected speech and cannot form the basis of a defamation claim. However, the line between protected opinion and defamatory speech can be very difficult to navigate.

Constitutional Rights

What should I do if I am a victim of police misconduct?
You should contact a lawyer experienced in handling these types of cases, because they can be complicated in how the pleadings have to be drafted, to avoid dismissal. You should report any misconduct in writing to the police department. However, many times the practical aspects of doing so may make that option difficult, particularly if you live in the community where you were victimized.    

If I refuse a police search, can officers search me anyway?
Generally speaking, an officer cannot conduct a search of your body, home or property unless the officer has reason to believe that illegal activity is occurring. 

Is it legal to videotape or photograph police?
Generally speaking, any taping with audio in Massachusetts is prohibited without permission of the subject. However, a recent case in the First Circuit Appeals Court in Boston (Glik v. Cunniffe), held that citizens have a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public. Photographs are also permissible with regard to police officers or ordinary citizens, except under certain circumstances.

*These answers do not constitute legal advice and are written for general information purposes only. Individuals should consult with a lawyer for specific legal advice.


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