Massachusetts Employment Law Matters
Federal law prohibits employment discrimination because of race, color, national origin, legal alienage, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability and union activity. Employment Discrimination laws generally protect not only present employees, but also former employees and some people, like applicants for jobs, who never have been employees. Most state laws protect workers on the same grounds as federal law. Several state laws and some local laws also protect against discrimination because of marital status, sexual orientation or preference.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
It is helpful for the victim to directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.
Discrimination based on Race, Color, Religion and/or National Origin
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color as well as national origin, sex, or religion.
It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of his/her race, color, religion and/or national origin in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. No one can be denied equal employment opportunity because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. Equal employment opportunity cannot be denied because of marriage or association with persons of a national origin group; membership or association with specific ethnic promotion groups; attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples or mosques generally associated with a national origin group; or a surname associated with a national origin group. Title VII prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups. Title VII also prohibits both intentional discrimination and neutral job policies that disproportionately exclude minorities and that are not job related.
Harassment on the basis of race, color and/or national origin violates Title VII. Ethnic slurs, racial "jokes," offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on an individual's race, color, religion and/or national origin constitutes unlawful harassment if the conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or interferes with the individual's work performance or employment opportunities
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA's protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment -- including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.
It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.
The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
When an employee is discharged, the first question is whether the employee is protected by a job security system, such as civil service, a collective bargaining agreement, academic tenure, or other promise of job security made by the employer. If the employee has job security, the employer must have good cause for discharge.
Even if the employee is at-will and does not have job security, workers are still protected from termination for illegal reasons. There are many federal and state laws that make reasons for adverse employment action illegal. Discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, or disability are all examples of illegal reasons for discharge that can be challenged.
The remedies for discrimination include what the law calls equitable as well as legal remedies. Equitable remedies include:
- lost back pay and future pay
- an order that the employee be reinstated
- an order to the employer to stop discriminating.
The federal statutes prohibiting discrimination now provide for a jury trial for claims of intentional discrimination and also provide legal remedies to compensate for the pain and suffering the victims of discrimination have suffered and punitive damages to punish particularly egregious discriminators. Compensatory and punitive damages are subject to caps depending on the size of the employer. While the victims of age discrimination cannot get punitive damages, the ADEA does provide for double damages when the employer's action is found to be willful.
Employees treated in a completely outrageous way by their
employers may be able to bring personal injury actions against
the employer for the intentional infliction of mental distress.
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