How do You Prove Employment Discrimination Under the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act, Chapter 151B?

employee-discrimination-massachusetts-culik-lawMassachusetts law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry or sex. The law applicable to this is Chapter 151B of the Massachusetts General Laws.

Even the most prejudiced employers know that they can’t get away with name-calling. Instead, they often use false reasons for terminating someone’s employment. These false reasons are called pretexts. Because many discriminatory employment actions are based on pretexts, also called a pretextual discharge, it can be difficult to provide direct evidence of employment discrimination. So how can an employee who was fired illegally show that the termination was based on a discriminatory reason?

A new case from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court explains what is required to show that an employer discriminated. Most importantly, an employee does not have to provide direct evidence of employment discrimination.

The case, Bulwer v. Mount Auburn Hospital [attach file], explains what an employee must do. There is a three stage process for proving employment discrimination under Chapter 151B. First, the employee must allege a discriminatory motive for the termination. The employer then may claim a non-discriminatory motive (such as poor work performance). To rebut this the employee should provide evidence that the employer’s non-discriminatory motive is not true and is just a pretext.

Does the employee have to prove that the employer’s motive was discriminatory? No, said the Supreme Judicial Court. The employee only needs to show that the termination might have been for a reason other than the one given at the time of termination, even if it’s not a discriminatory reason.

The SJC stated that “the plaintiff need only present evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that the [employer’s] facially proper reasons given for its action again him were not the reason reasons for that action.” The Court went on to say that if the jury “is persuaded that the employer’s reasons are false, it may … infer that the employer is covering up a discriminatory intent, motive, or state of mind.”

The Court then gave examples of pretextual reasons. These can be:

  • If the employer’s supposed reasons for the termination contain weaknesses or implausibilities,
  • If the employee is treated differently from other similarly situated employees who are not members of the protected class of persons, and
  • If the employer’s treatment of the employee is suggestive of stereotypical thinking, categorizing people on the basis of broad generalizations.

This case acknowledges how difficult it can be to directly prove discrimination, but shows that it can be proven in a number of indirect ways that still let an employee have his or her day in court.

If you feel like you have experienced discrimination, contact us for a no-cost consultation.

Josef Culik

Josef Culik

Attorney Joe Culik has built his reputation on helping people and has dedicated his practice in Boston, Massachusetts to consumer protection, employee rights, and small business and franchise law.