No Path to Justice for Victims of Discrimination in the MCAD 

Employment, Housing, Racial Justice

No Path to Justice for Victims of Discrimination in the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination 

Escalating long-simmering concerns over deficiencies at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”), the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts (“ULEM”) and Lawyers for Civil Rights (“LCR”) have issued a demand letter calling on the agency to take immediate action to adequately process discrimination complaints. The MCAD is the state agency established to enforce anti-discrimination laws, but has long been plagued by broken systems and long delays. The demand letter describes how these deficiencies rise to the level of constitutional violations, depriving people of their right to due process and access to courts.

As the letter outlines, the MCAD particularly fails low-income victims of discrimination who cannot afford a lawyer – a population the agency is legally charged with helping. The letter details how it is virtually impossible for individuals proceeding without an attorney to secure an appointment with the MCAD, and includes screenshots from the MCAD’s website showing “No Times Available” for days on end.

Even when victims succeed in filing complaints with the MCAD, they are forced to wait years for the MCAD to investigate their claims. While investigations linger in limbo, victims lose the ability to make their case: witnesses become unavailable and evidence gets lost, altered, or destroyed. The only one who benefits is the perpetrator, who goes unpunished. The impact is significant, as unlawful conduct remains unchecked. 

To address the problem head-on, the ULEM and LCR are calling for the MCAD to agree to a formal Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) that would detail specific community commitments and remedial steps to improve access and timeliness. ULEM and LCR are also requesting the re-opening of the MCAD’s New Bedford office, which has been closed since October 2020.

“The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts is committed to empowering communities to overcome racial and social barriers as well as economic inequality. The injustice of employment and housing discrimination continue to be an impediment to financial wellbeing and wealth creation in communities of color. An individual’s claim for relief based on discrimination is already hard enough to experience and come forward with and should not be at the mercy of a broken intake system.  This MOU is an essential tool for greater accountability, efficiency and transparency when handling those claims,” said Rahsaan D. Hall, Esq. President and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.

“The MCAD is supposed to facilitate justice for victims of discrimination, especially those who cannot afford a lawyer. Instead of being the driving force for providing relief, the MCAD itself is holding people at the gate. The MCAD is more often the wind in a victim’s face, rather than the wind at their back. We are asking for the MCAD to better shepherd vulnerable people and their discrimination cases through the system,” said Michael Kippins, Litigation Fellow at LCR.  Attorney Kippins added that the MCAD’s state budgetary allocation has increased from $4.3 million to $8.2 million over the last two years, making the ground fertile for immediate improvements and remedial action.

The letter provides specific instances of how individuals are harmed by the MCAD’s deficiencies.  In one example, when an Asian-American woman who worked for a local municipality was wrongfully terminated, she attempted multiple times to file a complaint at the MCAD on her own. Yet, when she accessed the MCAD’s website to schedule an appointment, the message from the MCAD was unequivocal: “No Times Available.” She was forced to hire a lawyer who could file a complaint on her behalf. 

This is not an isolated incident. LCR monitored the MCAD’s appointment schedule on 28 business days in December 2023 and January 2024, and on three-quarters of those days no appointments were available. In one particularly troubling span of six straight business days from December 11-18, 2023, no appointments were available. 

The demand letter from the Urban League and LCR outlines a series of constitutional rights implicated by the MCAD’s deficiencies, including victims’ due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and the right to access the courts. 

Click here to download the letter.