By Debbie Spingarn, Contributing Writer
BOSTON – Though some older Bay Staters are retiring early, many are continuing to work out of need or want. With this can come increasing age discrimination and other employment-related claims. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) was formed by the legislature in 1946. It was one of the first agencies in the United States to protect citizen civil rights and can investigate and prosecute grievances of ordinary people. And it’s all free of charge.
No cost to file a complaint
The agency team of attorneys and judges are experts in discrimination law, according to H. Harrison, executive assistant to the commissioners. Harrison explained that people who seek to sue their employers for age discrimination or other agencies for discrimination must by law also file their case with the MCAD. By doing so, they can win compensatory damages, monetary damages for emotional distress as well as obtain affirmative relief which includes job reinstatement and mandatory employer training.
Half of all people filing with the agency also retain private attorneys. Cases are investigated free of charge but may involve lengthy time frames. Individuals have only 300 days to come forward to file a discrimination complaint.
There are several groups protected from employment discrimination by law. They include sex, race, religion, color or national origin, people over 40 and people with physical or mental handicaps.
Low number of age discrimination cases filed
In 2020, only 18 to 20 percent of cases filed with the MCAD were for age discrimination in employment. Despite that low number, statistics on age discrimination from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that around 64 percent of the workforce has been a victim of or has witnessed age discrimination in the workplace.
In the MCAD’s annual report for 2020, there were 1,126 reported cases of retaliation and 1,083 disability cases reported. Cases for housing discrimination are also investigated by the MCAD and cases often overlap among categories.
Recent successful case involved both age and disability discrimination
A recent case highlighted in the agency’s annual report was about an individual in an age and disability discrimination case who was 61 years old. The individual planned to retire in under three years when he was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan and then terminated. The termination came less than two weeks after he told the company he needed to take leave for hip surgery. Result was he lost health insurance benefits when he was terminated and had to postpone the surgery. The case settled for $230,000 of which $115,000 was for emotional distress.
A court of legal discrimination experts
Harrison explained that while the MCAD has its own court of legal discrimination experts, some cases settle out of court even before going to trial with the MCAD.
What is certain, he further elaborated, is that the MCAD will be a neutral investigator and uncover unlawful discrimination. What prevents a case from successful prosecution? “Lack of evidence makes or breaks a case,” Harrison said.
More age discrimination cases as the population gets older
Our aging population in Massachusetts increases the likelihood of higher numbers of age discrimination lawsuits against employers, when workers stand up to fight this form of unlawful discrimination. Nationwide, the number is up from 15,000 complaints filed in 1997 to 21,000 complaints for age discrimination in 2013, according to the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which enforces federal discrimination laws.
By utilizing MCAD’s services, older workers in Massachusetts can try to maintain dignity and independence in the workforce for as long as they desire to work.