Filing a Discrimination Claim – Maryland
Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Maryland employment discrimination. The purpose of Maryland antidiscrimination law is to protect workers in Maryland from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Maryland employment law and how the law protects you.
1. I live in Maryland. What kinds of discrimination are against state law?
Maryland law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, familial status, color, national origin, age, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, genetic testing, physical and/or mental incapacity.
You should also check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination ordinance. Some cities and counties in Maryland have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” While some county information is included below, you may also need to check your local telephone directory or government web site for further information. In addition, if you work for the state government or a local government, special anti-discrimination laws and remedies may apply to you.
In Howard County, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, religion, handicap, color, sex, national origin, age, occupation, marital status, political opinion, sexual orientation, personal appearance, familial status or source of income. In Montgomery County, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, sex, age, national origin, marital status, handicap, sexual orientation, and genetic status. In Prince Georges County, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, occupation, marital status, political opinion, personal appearance, physical or mental handicap, or sexual orientation. If you live outside these counties, check with your city or county for further information. In Baltimore County, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, religion, physical or mental handicap, color, sex, national origin, age, and marital status. In Frederick County, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, marital status or disability.
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in my state?
In Maryland, a discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations (MCHR) 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 Baltimore Community Relations Commission, Howard County Office of Human Rights, Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, and Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission all also have work-sharing agreements with the EEOC, which means that you may also file with one of these local agencies to preserve your claim under local, state and federal law.
Some county antidiscrimination statutes (Prince George’s, Montgomery and Howard) cover some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has fewer than 15 employees, you should file with your county agency, as the EEOC enforces federal law, which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. (Maryland law also only covers workplaces of 15 or more employees.) If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with the county agency, state agency, or the EEOC; however, some attorneys recommend that you file with either the county agency (if one exists) or the EEOC (if there is no county agency).
To file a claim with the MCHR, contact the closest office below. More information about filing a claim with MCHR can be found at the MCHR website.
Maryland Commission on Human Rights
Howard County Office of Human Rights
Montgomery County Human Relations Commission
Fredrick County Human Relations Department
Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission (HRC)
Baltimore County Human Relations Commission
There are also MCHR offices in Hagerstown (Western Maryland), Cambridge, Salisbury (Eastern Shore), and Leonardtown (Southern Maryland).
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 the EEOC How to File page.
Baltimore District Office
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC’s state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
Do not delay in contacting the MCHR, EEOC or your county agency to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for these to act on your behalf, you must file with the MCHR (or cross-file with the EEOC) within six months or the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. Some of the county filing deadlines are as follows:
Howard County – Suit cannot be filed sooner than 45 days after administrative charge is filed with Howard County Office of Human Rights and must be filed within 2 years in the state circuit court within 2 years of the discriminatory act.
Montgomery County – Suit cannot be filed sooner than 45 days after administrative charge is filed with Montgomery County Human Relations Commission and must be filed within 2 years in the state circuit court within 2 years of the discriminatory act.
Prince George’s County – Suit cannot be filed sooner than 45 days after administrative charge is filed with Montgomery County Human Relations Commission and must be filed within 2 years in the state circuit court within 2 years of the discriminatory act.
Baltimore County – Suit cannot be filed sooner than 90 days after administrative charge is filed with Baltimore County Human Relations Commission and must be filed within 2 years in the state circuit court within 2 years of the discriminatory act.
Frederick County – Suit cannot be filed sooner than 180 days after administrative charge is filed with Frederick County Human Relations Commission and must be filed within 2 years in the state circuit court within 2 years of the discriminatory act.
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 county, state or federal administrative agencies.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Maryland?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. If your case is not resolved by the county agency, MCHR or EEOC, however, you may 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. Many counties also require exhaustion through the county agency.
There is no “private right of action” under Maryland state law for discrimination claims, which means that individuals cannot file a lawsuit in court under Maryland law. Unless you work in one of the counties that give you the right to file a case in court, or unless you are a state or local government employee who has a special remedy, the only remedy for Maryland’s anti-discrimination law is the administrative process.
Because Maryland law does not permit a court action to be filed under state law, and because the federal courts in Maryland are generally not considered to be employee-friendly, many Maryland attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court using county law if you work in Prince George’s, Montgomery or Howard counties. In Baltimore County, there is a right to sue in court if your employer has fewer than 6 employees, and the law limits the damages you can recover. A case filed in state court using federal law may be subject to “removal,” which means that a defendant employer requests to move the case to federal court, because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
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 it.).
In Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Howard counties, you may file a case in court based upon your county claim no later than two years after the discriminatory act occurred, but no sooner than 45 days after filing a complaint with the county agency. Different deadlines may apply in other cities and counties.
These deadlines are called the statute of limitations. If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, 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.
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