Massachusetts Retaliation Statute Protects Complaints Regarding Harassment of Co-Workers

In an important decision for employers, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination recently clarified the scope and purpose of its anti-retaliation statute, and awarded damages to an employee who was terminated for submitting an internal complaint of sexual harassment directed by one of her co-workers towards another co-worker.The material facts of the case are as follows:   Complainant worked as a housekeeper for the Respondent nursing home, and reported a sexually explicit comment made by one of Complainant’s male co-workers towards another co-worker to the nursing home management.     Although her male co-worker was disciplined (but not terminated) for his act of harassment, the Complainant was thereafter singled out for minor performance-related issues, and eventually terminated within two months of reporting the incident.  

At the Complainant’s hearing before the MCAD, evidence was presented that suggested the Complainant had upset some of the nursing home staff by complaining about her male co-worker, and that the Respondent’s alleged concerns with the Complainant’s performance and interaction with patients had been greatly exaggerated.

The case, MCAD et al. v. Sea View Retreat, Inc., is an important reminder that M.G.L. c. 151B (the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act) is a broad, remedial statute meant to eradicate retaliation against employees for engaging in “protected activity” within the workplace.   Complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace constitute “protected activity” regardless of whether the person being subjected to the discrimination or harassment is (1) the complaining employee, (2) a fellow employee, or presumably even (3) a non-employee – for example, a contractor or outside representative of the employer.

 If you or your business have questions relating to harassment or discrimination in the workplace, please contact us at 508-381-0499.