Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination in Massachusetts?

Employees who are fired for discriminatory reasons in Massachusetts, or for exercising certain legal rights, may have a wrongful termination claim. This includes job applicants, employees and former employees who are legally protected from discrimination at work based on several characteristics which include race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, national origin, age (40 years or older), disability and genetic information (including family medical history).

Massachusetts is an “employment-at-will” state. At-will employment means that employers can freely terminate an employee at any time, without providing a reason, or giving any prior warning, as long as it does not violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws or if an employee refuses to do something that is illegal.  At-will employment also means that an employee can quit a job at any time without providing a reason or giving any notice.

Contract employment is different from at-will employment. Contracts indicate the terms of employment, including the employee's duties, work hours, length of employment, salary, benefits and bases for termination.

Is Massachusetts an At-Will Employment State?

A wrongful termination in MA or simply learning about a firing from a manager can evoke a wide range of negative emotions.

One of the most prevalent emotions is anger that develops because a worker believes the termination is unjust. Can an employer fire you for just about any type of reason? What qualifies as wrongful termination in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, as well as in most other states, employment relationships are defined by a legal principle called at-will employment.

At-will employment represents an employment relationship established between an employer and an employee. The employment relationship is based on both parties having the right to terminate an employment relationship at any time, and for virtually any reason.

For example, you do not have to provide your employer with any notice if you decide to take your professional skills elsewhere. On the other hand, your employer can fire you to save money on labor costs, promote another qualified worker, or because the company has decided to consolidate several departments. In this instance, you would not be eligible for a Massachusetts wrongful termination claim.

When does an employer cross the legal line and commit an act of wrongful termination in Massachusetts?

The answer is when an employer violated a state and/or federal discrimination law. According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot discriminate based on several factors that include race, gender, religion, and national origin. This means your employer cannot fire you because you are of a certain sex and color, as well as affiliated with a religion your employer does not like.

Wrongful Termination Laws in Massachusetts

Like other states, most employees in Massachusetts work on at-will employment conditions. This means they can be fired for just about any reason. However, there are some exceptions to termination at will. Both Massachusetts state and federal legislation prohibits termination due to discrimination as well as a number of other reasons such as when the employee refuses to carry out an illegal activity or acts as a whistleblower.

Firing an employee because of discrimination or retaliation may be considered wrongful termination. The employee who believes they have been wrongfully terminated may file a claim with the relevant state or federal agency administering wrongful termination legislation.

In Massachusetts, anti-discrimination legislation exists in the form of the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act. Employers cannot fire an employee solely because of their age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, color, or religion. Employees who have been wrongfully terminated because of such discrimination should file a claim with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).

In addition to the state’s own legislation, federal laws also prohibit termination due to discrimination against the same ‘protected classes’ as the state’s Fair Employment Practices Act. Most protected classes come under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Termination of employment because of someone’s age (over 40) is also prohibited under the Age Discrimination Act and because of an employee’s disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The federal agency that investigates cases of discrimination, including wrongful termination, is the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). This agency primarily investigates complaints by employees who have been employed in workplaces of 15 or more employees.

What are My Rights in Wrongful Termination?

An employee has most likely been wrongfully terminated in Massachusetts if discrimination has been the reason for the termination. Other reasons that may be considered wrongful termination include:

  • being fired for being a whistleblower in MA;
  • complaining about Massachusetts workplace issues;
  • not being willing to commit an illegal act when asked to by a Massachusetts employer;
  • taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act;
  • forced resignation due to discrimination in the workplace;
  • retaliation after an employee has applied for workers’ compensation or has filed a complaint of discrimination with a MA state or federal anti-discrimination agency.

Employees who have been wrongfully terminated in MA may pursue their claims through the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or in federal or Massachusetts court. You must first file with either the EEOC or MCAD, and both the EEOC and MCAD have strict filing deadlines. 

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Termination Claim in Massachusetts?

You have 300 days to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) if you believe you were wrongfully terminated in Massachusetts.

The clock starts ticking for the 300-day deadline on the day when your employer wrongfully terminated you. According to Massachusetts law, you have 30 days to file a civil lawsuit after you receive a notice of dismissal from the MCAD.

Under Title VII guidelines, you have 90 days after you receive a “right to sue” notice from the EEOC to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

If a wrongful termination has caused you pain and suffering, as well as physical ailments such as migraine headaches and high blood pressure, you might qualify to receive compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Massachusetts wrongful termination laws requires plaintiffs to file a personal injury lawsuit within three years from the date of the wrongful termination. If a plaintiff fails to file a civil lawsuit before the expiration of the statute of limitations, the court clerk responsible for processing the lawsuit will dismiss it.

Whether you file a claim with the EEOC or MCAD, you need to submit persuasive evidence that your former employer wrongfully terminated you.

Evidence comes in the form of employment records. For example, if your employer claims to have fired you because of poor job performance, you can refer to your positive employee reviews to counter the claim.

Other documents to refer to when submitting a convincing wrongful termination claim and/or lawsuit include the employee handbook, emails exchanged between you and your manager, and termination notice or a memo discussing the conversation you had with your employer that discusses your termination.

You have several options to remedy your illegal firing, which include receiving back pay and returning to your job given your employer takes steps to prevent future acts of wrongful termination.

How Do I Sue for Wrongful Termination?

Before suing for wrongful termination in MA, you need to gather your employment documents, as your employment status has to be clearly documented if you want to prove your wrongful termination claim. The employment documents you may need include:

  • personnel file;
  • employment agreement/contract (if applicable);
  • employee handbook;
  • workplace policies;
  • job evaluations;
  • union contracts;
  • pay stubs;
  • memos between employer and employee;
  • termination notice if it came in writing, or a memo of the conversation if the termination was oral.

You should compile a precise timeline of events as they happened up to being terminated in Massachusetts. You should include evaluations of your job performance and when they took place as being fired despite positive feedback can mean a wrongful termination has taken place for a reason that is nothing to do with your work performance. Make sure you know who was directly involved in your wrongful termination such as your boss or HR or even indirectly through clients and co-workers. Write down the date the termination took place and who was present and if any reasons were given.  

Massachusetts employment laws allow a number of remedies for victims of wrongful termination. Depending on the cause of the wrongful termination, an employee in Massachusetts may be able to seek a remedy for wrongful termination. Remedies for wrongful termination include the following:

  • reinstatement of employment;
  • back and/or forward pay;
  • punitive damages;
  • damages for emotional distress.

Before filing a claim for wrongful termination in Massachusetts, evidence needs to be available proving that the wrongful termination is illegal. Depending on the reason for the termination this could include reports from co-workers stating why they thought the termination was due to discrimination or one of the other unlawful reasons such as being a whistleblower or refusing to take part in an illegal activity.

How Can A Wrongful Termination Lawyer Help?

One good reason for seeking help from an employment lawyer who takes cases in Massachusetts is the time limit you have to dispute your wrongful termination and file a claim with the EEOC or MCAD. This is 300 days from the date that you believe you were wrongfully terminated.  A lawyer may help ensure your claim is made before the deadline. After you receive an official notice of your right to sue from the EEOC, you will have 90 days to file in state or federal court. For a case under Massachusetts law, you may sue in court as soon as 30 days after receiving a notice of dismissal from MCAD, but within three years from the date you believe you were discriminated or retaliated against. 

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