AACA Community Forum Addresses Discrimination
Is it just socially inappropriate or is it discrimination? The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is there to help you sort that out.
On Wednesday May 25, MCAD Chairman Julian Tynes spoke at the Asian American Civic Association (AACA) “Know Your Rights, Know the Law” Community Forum to introduce the agency to the Asian American community and encourage participation with the Commission to stamp out discrimination in worksites and public spaces.
“Discrimination is still a foreign concept for most immigrants.” said Chau-ming Lee, Executive Director of AACA. “The challenges that we see are: understanding what discrimination is, dispelling the fear of disclosing information, and the lack of knowledge about free and helpful resources such as MCAD”
“One of MCAD’s goals is to reach out to groups that have been underserved or less reached-out to,” Tynes said. The Commission has a team of investigators that receives over 3000 complaints a year of prejudiced or unfair treatment of employees, clients, and citizens.
Tynes’ staff was also on hand to describe how MCAD processes complaints. Karen Erickson, staff attorney at the enforcement unit, assured that every complaint is confidential, taken seriously, welcomed, and can be anonymous. “If you feel you have been discriminated against, we want you to feel comfortable to come file a complaint.” Erickson said. “You don’t need a lawyer, you don’t need to bring money, just tell us your story.”
Most the cases that MCAD handle occur in the workplaces having six or more employees. The cases cover disparate treatment, which means a negative decision was made by an employer based simply on a ‘protected class’ which one’s in, based on categories such as race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability.
MCAD also handles discrimination against people with criminal records, as the recent CORI reform law enacted last year made questions of criminal records illegal in the job application process.
“Discrimination can occur at any point of the employment process” said Simone Liebman, legal counsel for the Commission. For example, it is discrimination if a well-qualified individual was not offered a job, but another less qualified individual outside of the first individual’s protected class was hired.
“It can also occur in the provision of benefits and the context of discipline,” added Liebman, who cited an example of a police officer who was not granted injured-on-duty status because she was a woman.
The fastest growing area of discrimination is disability. Aside from termination, treatment or hiring, if an employee has informed an employer about his or her disability and needs reasonable accommodation (such as a ergonomic chair, more flexible commute schedule, etc.), but it’s not responded with a sincere discussion on the part of the employer, the employee should file a complaint.
MCAD also process harassment, sexual or otherwise, and a more complicated area of disparate impact.
Sexual harassment is often understood as situations where lewd or sexually suggestive acts are used in exchange or request for something else – a quid pro quo situation. It is less common to understand sexual harassment in a broader context. MCAD receives cases when the behavior of a co-worker, or the lack of redress on the part of the employer, leads to a hostile work environment that is more overt (displaying pornographic images) or more subtle (suggesting certain positions or tasks are unfit for females).
Disparate impact covers scenarios of more indirect forms of discrimination. The requirement of having “English as the first language” on a job posting, for example, might lead to the result of discriminating against immigrants or speakers of other languages. Although it is not discriminatory to require English proficiency, it is however, discriminatory to require English as first language when one can be fluent in English even if it is his or her second or third language.
The MCAD staff also stressed that immigration status will not be asked, shared, or otherwise be a factor in the complaint process. Moreover, materials in languages other than English are available, and professional or personal interpreters are welcomed in the filing process by phone or in person.
“We are entrusted to investigate whether a business or public entity has violated the anti-discrimination laws. We do this by people coming forward to tell us what happened,” said Pamela Myers, an MCAD investigator. “Investigators are neutral and cannot give advice, nor has any personal stake in an outcome,” she added.
MCAD also finds that Asians generally tend to report less than other minorities who face discrimination. “Generally speaking, [Asians] tend to default on fighting through [discriminatory] situations or bearing it out of loyalty,” Myers said.
One of the steps which the investigation can employ is the testing of discrimination by sending two very similarly qualified people with similar characteristics (besides the category being tested) and see if they are treated differently based on that difference.
This is especially critical when determining whether certain businesses or industries discriminate against certain groups of people, or favor a certain group to cut costs, protect existing workers, or any other prejudicial reason.
“Women with the same skills, experience and job on average make 77% of the pay that their male counterparts do.”
Tynes pointed out. “That is illegal, that’s discrimination against their gender.” Tynes went on to cite a study that shows this ratio will not level out until 2058 at the current rate of improvement. He also described similar patterns for racial and ethnic minorities versus, as well as mistreatment in public accommodation based on reasons other than disabilities.
Tynes encouraged all to call 617-994-6000 to file a complaint or apply to become a tester. “The only way we know can eradicate discrimination is through your help.”