The annual reports published by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the Department of Labor Relations can help managers keep abreast of trends and the types of cases filed with each agency in order to better manage workplace disputes.

The MCAD reports that it received 3,364 complaints in fiscal 2019, a 15% increase over fiscal 2018, and conducted 624 mediations and conciliations, which are meetings the commission holds to try to resolve matters before proceeding to a public hearing. The majority of cases fell in the employment area (2,673), covering discrimination claims based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender identity, age, criminal record inquiries, disability, mental illness, retaliation, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, active military personnel and genetics.

From there, complaints break down into protected categories, with disability on top (1,361), with retaliation (1,342), race and color (1,064), sex (950), and age (598) rounding out the top five. The report further breaks down sex discrimination complaints, with 59% for sex discrimination, 30% for sexual harassment, and 11% for parental leave and pregnancy.

The data highlight areas where managers may want to provide more training and awareness in the workplace, and serve as a reminder that a retaliation claim stands alone as a separate cause of action. A complainant can lose a discrimination claim but still win a claim of retaliation.

The MCAD data indicate that employers’ actions around complaints of discrimination and retaliation merit more scrutiny in order to reduce liability.

Other categories of complaints trail discrimination in employment, with housing (412), public places (261), education (16) and credit (2) having significantly fewer filings.

Of all the filings, 14% were found to have evidence sufficient to support a determination that unlawful discrimination occured, and of the active cases, 11% were prosecuted and adjudicated.

The MCAD has offices in Boston, New Bedford, Springfield and Worcester where individuals can file a complaint. The statute of limitations on filing a complaint is 300 days in most cases, counting from the last alleged discriminatory act.

The MCAD investigates each complaint and determines whether it merits a probable cause determination. From there, parties often try to reach an agreement to resolve a dispute before the case reaches a public hearing.

The MCAD reports that it has been working over the past several years to reduce the number of older cases, and that its backlog is at 285, the lowest number in decades. The commission’s goal is to reduce the time it takes to conduct an investigation from 18 months to 12, which would be good news to both employees and employers, as disputes in general are a drain on the workplace.

In its annual report, the Department of Labor Relations reports that it opened 638 new cases and closed 739 cases in fiscal 2019, with the majority being for unfair labor practice charges under the state’s labor relations statute (M.G.L. Ch. 150E). Determinations of probable cause took about five weeks, and hearing officers issued their decisions in about 19½ weeks on average. The DLR reports a goal to improve these averages in the next fiscal year.

The DLR’s mission is to protect employees’ rights to organize and choose bargaining representation, and to enforce collective bargaining laws. According to the report, the DLR “conducts elections, hears representation cases, investigates and hears unfair labor practice cases, resolves labor disputes through mediation and arbitration, and issues orders in cases that parties are unable to resolve through alternative dispute resolution methods.”
The Joint Labor Management Committee is part of the DLR and works to encourage resolution of disputes over contract terms or procedures between municipalities and their police officers and firefighters.

In fiscal 2019, there were 46 JLMC cases filed, and DLR mediators worked to resolve 65 contract mediations. The JLMC also conducted 12 Section 3(a) hearings, which the committee votes to hold when the issues in negotiations remain unresolved for an extended period of time.

The MCAD report is available at The DLR report is available at

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