The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has ruled that arbitration provisions in employment contracts do not prevent the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) from launching their own investigation into the matter.
In Joule, Inc. v. Simmons, an employee alleged that they were fired as a result of their pregnancy and subsequently filed a discrimination complaint with MCAD. Because the former employee had signed an employment contract containing an arbitration provision in it for discrimination claims, the employer sought to halt the MCAD complaint.
The SJC held that the MCAD’s investigation could proceed regardless of the arbitration provision and that the two claims should “continue concurrently, on parallel tracks.”
As a result of this ruling, employers who have employees with contracts that require arbitration as a means of resolving discrimination complaints can now be forced to defend their actions both through arbitration and MCAD proceedings.
This decision will force some employers to defend themselves from discrimination claims in two forums. The decision also gives MCAD the ability to pursue actions on behalf of the Commonwealth rather than in the name of the individual complainant. With this authority, MCAD may now bring claims against employers even when the employee involved no longer wishes to pursue it or when the employee is prohibited by contract from pursuing it.
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