Appeals Court Discusses Employer Due Process in MCAD Proceedings

On May 13, 2021, the Appeals Court issued a decision, 15 LaGrange Street Corporation, et al. v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, et al, (20-P-726) vacating a Superior Court decision finding that a Complainant properly claimed to be terminated on the basis of race which accordingly put the respective Respondents on notice of the claim.

In 2011, the Complainant filed a charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for raising safety concerns to his employer.  Without so stating, the Complainant also indicated in his charge that he was treated less favorably than coworkers of a different protected class.  MCAD found probable cause to credit the allegations, and certified the matter for a public hearing.

Ahead of the hearing, the parties submitted their positions to the MCAD, of which the Complainant echoed his claims from the charge and seemingly indicated that he was terminated because of his race.  The Respondents countered that it would be improper for the race-based termination claim to be heard where it was not previously alleged in the investigation process.  Despite this, during this hearing, Complainant alleged that “race played some role in the decision to terminate…”  The Hearing Officer agreed, and the Respondents sought further review from the MCAD Commissioners and Superior Court, arguing that they were deprived of meaningful notice and ability to respond to the claim.  The MCAD Commissioners and Superior Court affirmed the decision, and the matter was brought to the Appeals Court.

The Appeals Court concluded that the initial charge, “even read indulgently, did not provide fair notice of a claim of racially motivated termination…[n]owhere in [the] complaint, however, did [complainant] allege that he was terminated because of his race.”  While the Complainant and the MCAD acknowledged that this may be true, they contended that other parts of the investigation process provided the Respondents proper notice of the claim.  Complainant and MCAD argued that (1) Complainant’s deposition testimony sufficiently addressed his race-based termination claim; and (2) the MCAD’s investigation process allows it to infer claims where the facts permit.  These arguments were unpersuasive and rejected by the Appeals Court, which held that the Respondents were deprived of due process where notice of the claim was wholly inadequate.

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This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.