What Are Protected Classes?

​It is important to know that Massachusetts employment discrimination law protects a broader group of people than the Federal employment discrimination law. Below are the "protected classes" recognized by Massachusetts and/or federal law:
Federal and Massachusetts employment discrimination law:

  • Race 
  • Color 
  • Religious Creed 
  • National Origin 
  • Sex 
  • Age: over 40  
  • Pregnancy
  • Disability  (including perceived disability)

Additional Classes Protected under Massachusetts employment discrimination law:

  • Gender Identity 
  • Sexual Orientation 
  • Genetic Information
  • Ancestry 

What Does This Mean for You?

This does not mean an employee in a protected class, or who engages in protected activity, can never be fired or disciplined.  What it does mean is that employers should be thoughtful and consistent in their disciplinary and firing decisions, not because the law requires thoughtfulness and consistency but because, in their absence, an employee -and ultimately a judge or jury- could conclude that the reason for the employer's action was that person's membership in a protected class or because of protected activity, and therefore a violation of the employment discrimination laws.  

Rules of the Road Massachusetts Employment Laws

What Is Protected Activity?

It is also unlawful under the employment discrimination law to fire an employee in retaliation for engaging in certain activities protected under the discrimination laws.  Examples of protected activity:

  • Reporting sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Making a complaint (internal or external) about discrimination
  • Assisting another employee in making a complaint about sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination

As long as the activity was done in good faith (meaning the employee had a reasonable belief that unlawful sexual harassment or discrimination was taking place), they are protected from retaliation even if the complaint is found to be unsupported.


​Employment Discrimination Law

Employment discrimination
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10.0Emily E. Smith-Lee
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(781) 784-2322


In Massachusetts, as in many other states, employment is considered “at will,” unless you have an employment contract that says something different. What that means is that either the employer or the employee can end the relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all.  It can be fair or unfair, carefully considered or impulsive.  EXCEPT:  Massachusetts and Federal employment discrimination law makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on certain characteristics that are called “protected classes,” and cannot retaliate against an employee for exercising a legally protected right.

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