Filing a Discrimination Claim - Maine

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Maine?

The Maine Human Rights Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, genetic pre-disposition, religion, ancestry or national origin.

The Maine Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination because of filing a claim or asserting a right under the Worker's Comp. Act or retaliation under the Whistleblower's Act.

Maine law protects workers under 40 in age discrimination cases, unlike the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) which covers only workers over 40. Maine law also permits all workers who prevail in age cases to recover compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), which are not allowed under federal law in age discrimination cases.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Maine?

In Maine, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a work-sharing agreement, which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to cross-file the claim with the other agency.

The Maine anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you should file with the MHRC, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. (Please note that the types of damages you may be able to recover against employers with fewer than 15 employees is limited under state law). Some Maine attorneys recommend that you file with the MHRC first for all types of discrimination claims, since its Maine office makes it more convenient to process your claim than the EEOC's closest office in Boston.

To file a claim with the MHRC, contact its office below. More information about filing a claim with the MHRC can be found at: http://www.state.me.us/mhrc/index.shtml.

Maine Human Rights Commission
51 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0051
Phone: (207) 624-6050
TTY/TTD: (207) 624-6064
Fax: (207) 624-6063

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC Boston Area Office
John F. Kennedy Federal Building
Government Center
4th Floor, Room 475
Boston, MA 02203
Phone: (617) 565-3200
TTY: (617) 565-3204

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the MHRC or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. To preserve your claim under state law, you must file with the MHRC (or cross-file with the EEOC) within six months of the date you first became aware of a discriminatory employment action even if the action did not take effect until later. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you first became aware of a discriminatory employment action. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible, but if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Maine?

If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the MHRC or EEOC and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called exhaustion of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you should file with the MHRC. While exhaustion under state law is not strictly required, a failure to file with the MHRC will limit the damages you can recover in court.

Because the resolution of a federal lawsuit tends to be faster, many Maine attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. It is easier in Maine state court to prevent summary judgment (a dismissal of the case prior to trial after presenting disputed and undisputed facts to a judge), according to some attorneys.

The EEOC must first issue the document known as Dismissal and Notice of Rights or Notice of Right to Sue (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.)

After your case has been pending with the MHRC for 180 days, then you may request a similar right-to-sue letter from MHRC to proceed with your state claim. A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within 2 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against.

These deadlines are called the statute of limitations. If you have received one of these agency dismissal notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.