A Guide to Filing Discrimination and Harassment Lawsuits: Know Your Rights and Time Limits
Critical Considerations for Discrimination and Harassment Claims
Learn how to navigate the process of bringing a discrimination or harassment lawsuit. Understanding the statutory time limits and the complaint process is crucial. This information is relevant to both discrimination and harassment cases. Discover more about what to expect as a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations for Discrimination or Harassment Claims
The statute of limitations, a crucial aspect of any claim, governs the time frame for taking legal action. In Massachusetts, you have a 300-day window to file a lawsuit for harassment or discrimination. This equates to approximately 10 months, with the clock starting when the discriminatory act occurs. While federal law offers a 180-day limit, in Massachusetts, you have the flexibility to bring either a federal or state law claim within 300 days.
Determining the exact date of the discriminatory act can sometimes be challenging, especially if it unfolds over time or involves multiple incidents. To protect your rights and avoid missing the opportunity to seek a remedy, consider consulting an employment lawyer as soon as possible. If you're uncertain about the time limits and don't have an attorney yet, you can initiate a complaint with the EEOC or MCAD, which does not involve filing fees. This step will suffice as long as it falls within the statute of limitations.
Filing a Complaint with the EEOC or MCAD
All discrimination and harassment complaints, including retaliation claims, must be initially filed with either the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ("MCAD") or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). These agencies enforce state and federal discrimination laws, covering a wide range of categories, such as race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and genetic information under Massachusetts law.
This initial filing with the agency is referred to as "exhausting your administrative remedies." Failing to take this crucial first step within the stipulated time frame will bar you from pursuing your case in court, with limited exceptions for age discrimination and equal pay claims. It's generally advisable to start with the agency process.
EEOC and MCAD Proceedings
Once you've filed your complaint, the agency will notify your employer or former employer about the discrimination charge and assign an investigator to your case. Early on, the agency may propose mediation as an option, although it's not mandatory for either party. Mediation can offer a chance to resolve the matter amicably before incurring the time and expense of litigation.
You retain the choice of continuing with the agency's process or withdrawing your complaint and proceeding to court. In the EEOC, you can transition to court proceedings 180 days after filing the complaint if no decision has been issued. If a decision has been made, you have 90 days from that point to file in court. In the MCAD, you can withdraw your complaint to initiate court proceedings 90 days after filing.
While both the EEOC and MCAD handle numerous discrimination cases annually, the process may be lengthy. Additionally, you won't have the same access to discovery procedures as you would in court.
Costs and attorneys fees
Concerns about covering the costs of a workplace discrimination complaint are understandable. However, many employment lawyers operate on a contingency fee basis. This means you may be required to pay an initial flat fee and cover out-of-pocket expenses, but the bulk of the fees becomes payable only if you receive compensation through a judgment or settlement.
Moreover, if you prevail in a discrimination or harassment claim, your employer is typically responsible for covering your attorney's fees. This arrangement ensures that you don't end up with less money than your employer if you have a strong claim.
Do you need a lawyer to bring a discrimination or harassment claim?
While it's not mandatory to have legal representation when filing a complaint, consulting an attorney experienced in employment law can be immensely valuable from the outset. They can help you assess whether pursuing a claim is worthwhile and assist in navigating complex procedural requirements that may be challenging for non-legal professionals to comprehend.
If hiring an attorney isn't financially viable at the moment and you need to meet the 300-day deadline, consider initiating the process with the EEOC or MCAD. You can enlist an attorney's help later when transitioning to court proceedings.
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