John Maher: Hi I’m John Maher, and I am here with Samuel Perkins. A founding partner of Brody, Hardoon, Perkins and Kesten in Boston Massachusetts. Sam has been lead counsel in dozens of jury trials in the federal and state courts of Massachusetts and Vermont, and his diverse practice areas include commercial litigation and employment law. Today, we’re talking about gender discrimination for executives and professionals. Welcome Sam.
Samuel Perkins: Thank you.
Gender Discrimination in the Workplace
John: Sam, explain what gender discrimination in the workplace is.
Samuel: The commonest form of gender discrimination in the workplace is discrimination against women because of their status as females. We have done cases that involved what is called reverse discrimination, where either a white person is suing a company for discriminating, in their view, in favor of a black person, or when males are suing claiming that women have been favored, that the males have been discriminated against, but normally, it’s discrimination against women.
John: Are all types of discrimination protected by law, such as age discrimination, gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, etc.?
Samuel: Yes, it’s a long list. It doesn’t cover obesity necessarily at this point, but that may be the next phase of the law.
Bullying in the Workplace
John: Interesting. What is bullying in the workplace? Is that something that’s a real thing?
Samuel: It’s important to draw a distinction between bullying in the workplace, bullying women in the workplace, and sexual harassment of women in the workplace. At this point in Massachusetts, there is no law which protects women from bullying in the workplace. Obviously at the point at which what we think of as bullying becomes assault, physical touching or sexual harassment — which I’ll talk about more in a minute — then there are legal prohibitions against it, but conventional bullying, what we think of as bullying — meanness, nastiness, saying pejorative things, being down on someone, criticizing their work — a great deal of those are not violations of the law in Massachusetts.
Laws Protecting from Discrimination in the Workplace
John: Okay. What laws or rights do I have that protect me from discrimination, bullying or harassment, as you said, in the workplace?
Samuel: There’s a huge range of laws focusing on discrimination against women that protect women against discrimination of all types. If we focus first on pay, which is usually the primary issue, there are state and federal equal pay acts, state and federal discrimination laws which prohibit inequality in pay for similar or the same work, for men and women.
There are discrimination laws which prohibit different treatment in the workplace, of women, such as not giving them favored assignments or in other ways marginalizing them, keeping them off the promotion track.
What is Sexual Harassment?
John: Is there a specific definition of what sexual harassment is?
Samuel: Yeah. Sexual harassment typically takes two forms. One is called quid‑pro‑quo which means you get something for what you give up. Quid‑pro‑quo harassment is when a male in the business, as a condition of continuing your employment, or treating you favorably, requires that you provide some sort of sexual favor in exchange for that.
There is also hostile work environment sexual harassment that describes a situation where, because of sexually charged comments, jokes, observations about a woman’s body or dress, or just an atmosphere that is sexually charged, with references or showing dirty pictures, makes the situation so uncomfortable that it changes the conditions of the workplace. That’s an example of hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Filing a Lawsuit for Discrimination or Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
John: How would I go about filing a lawsuit for discrimination in the workplace or sexual harassment?
Samuel: In Massachusetts all discrimination claims of that type have to be filed initially in an agency called The Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination. You can go directly to the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination and meet with an intake counselor and do a complaint there without consulting a lawyer, but it makes more sense to begin by meeting with a lawyer, having a free consultation to see whether you have a case that has value, because the case will be more strongly presented right from the outset if you’re represented by counsel.
John: It’s a good idea to seek out a lawyer who deals with gender discrimination and sexual harassment to make sure that the situation that you’re in has merit and that you might have a shot at then going to the Mass Commission against Discrimination and filing a claim and having that go through.
Samuel: Yeah. It’s also important to keep in mind that, for sexual harassment claims and gender discrimination claims, there is a relatively short window of time compared to most statutes of limitations — in Massachusetts it’s 300 days from the time the last discriminatory act or act of harassment occurred.
John: That’s excellent information. Samuel Perkins, thanks very much for speaking with me today.
Samuel: My pleasure.
John: For more information about Brody, Hardoon, Perkins and Kestin visit the firm’s website at bhpklaw.com or call 888‑877‑6393.