Discrimination in the workplace is not just deeply unsettling, it's also illegal. In Maryland, private sector employees have specific channels through which they can address grievances related to unlawful discrimination. Understanding the process of filing a discrimination case can empower employees to stand up for their rights. This blog post aims to demystify the procedures involved in filing an unlawful discrimination claim in Maryland.
Step 1: Identifying Unlawful Discrimination
Before proceeding, it’s crucial to identify whether the specific employment action falls under unlawful discrimination. Unlawful discrimination occurs when an employer takes a material adverse employment action against an employee based on their protected class, including race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Typical examples of adverse employment actions include allegations of failure to hire or promote, wrongful termination, retaliation, and unequal pay for equal work.
Step 2: Documenting the Discrimination
Gather as much evidence as possible. This might include emails, witness statements, performance reviews, or any other documents that demonstrate discriminatory behavior based on a protected class or retaliation for engaging in a protected activity. Remember, detailed and accurate records can significantly strengthen your case.
Step 3: Internal Complaint Procedures
Many organizations have internal procedures for handling discrimination complaints. While not legally required, filing a complaint with your employer can sometimes resolve issues without needing to involve external agencies.
Step 4: Filing a Charge with the EEOC or MCCR
If internal processes do not resolve the issue, the next step is to file a charge with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR).
EEOC: The EEOC enforces federal discrimination laws, which often overlap with and supplement state discrimination laws. You can file a charge in person, by mail, or through their online portal. The deadline for filing is usually within 300 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory action.
MCCR: For those preferring state-level intervention, the MCCR handles discrimination cases in Maryland. Similar to the EEOC, you can file a charge online, by mail, or in person. The MCCR also typically requires a charge to be filed within 300 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory action. Note, though, complaints of housing discrimination must be filed within 1 year of the alleged unlawful incident, and complaints of public accommodations discrimination must be filed within 6 months of the alleged unlawful incident.
IMPORTANT: If you miss the appropriate charge filing deadline, you are generally prohibited from filing a lawsuit in court based on the same discriminatory action(s).
Step 5: Investigation and Mediation
Once a charge is filed and accepted, the receiving agency will conduct an investigation. At the start of an investigation, the agency will advise both parties if the charge is eligible for mediation. If mediation does not resolve the matter, the agency has 180 days to complete the investigation, at which point it will issue a comprehensive "Report of Investigation." The agency may also request for additional time to complete its investigation.
Note, after the 180-day deadline lapses, the complainant may file a lawsuit in court to enforce their rights.
Step 6: Right to Sue and Legal Proceedings
If EEOC is unable to conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, you will be issued a notice called a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights." This letter allows you to file a lawsuit in a federal or state court. It is highly advisable to consult with an employment law attorney at this stage.
If, however, the EEOC determines there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred, both parties will be issued a "Letter of Determination" stating that there is reason to believe that discrimination occurred and inviting the parties to join the agency in seeking to resolve the charge through an informal process known as conciliation.
When conciliation does not succeed in resolving the charge, EEOC has the authority to enforce violations of its statutes by filing a lawsuit in federal court. If the EEOC decides not to litigate, the charging party will receive a Notice of Right to Sue and may file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days.
Note, the MCCR process is very similar to that of the EEOC, but there are differences at this stage of the proceedings. It's highly advisable to consult with an employment law attorney about the MCCR's processes and procedures.
Facing unlawful discrimination can be challenging, but knowing your rights and the appropriate channels to address such issues is critical. While the process might seem daunting, Maryland provides clear pathways for private sector employees to seek justice. Remember, every step taken against discrimination is a stride toward a more equitable workplace.
About the Author
Attorney Jordan D. Howlette is the founder and managing attorney of Justly Prudent, the civil rights arm of JD Howlette Law. Prior to establishing his practice, Jordan worked as trial attorney in the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he successfully litigated dozens of civil tax cases on behalf of the United States in federal courts around the country, securing millions of dollars in favorable judgments while also advocating for equitable justice. He is intimately familiar with the procedures, strategies, and processes of litigating cases from start to finish in court and with resolving multi-faceted civil disputes involving high-dollar amounts, complex statutory and regulatory provisions, and diverse parties from different jurisdictions.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Justly Prudent, JD Howlette Law, or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this article without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.