What is the Process for Filing an Administrative Complaint of Employment Discrimination in Maryland?

April 15, 2019
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

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When it comes to addressing the illegal acts of employers, such as pregnancy discrimination or sexual harassment, there are certain procedures you must follow before you can file a lawsuit. First, for most discrimination claims, you must file an administrative complaint with either the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR). These are the agencies charged with investigating discrimination and retaliation complaints at the federal and state levels, respectively.

If the agency does not act on the administrative complaint in a timely manner, then you are free to take private action against the employer yourself. In Maryland, that time period is 180 days, or roughly six months. In other words, if you filed a complaint with the MCCR in January 2018, and the Commission failed to take any action by the end of June 2018, you can sue the employer in the appropriate Maryland circuit court.

Court Finds No Difference Between “Information” and “Complaint”

Some employment discrimination claims are never heard by the courts because the plaintiffs fail to go the EEOC or MCCR first–what is known in legal terms as “exhausting administrative remedies.” There are also cases in which judges elevate form over substance and improperly reject complaints when the plaintiff did comply with the requirements of the law.

Here is a recent example. The plaintiff in this case worked as a cook for the defendant for approximately 12 years. She was fired. The defendant claims it was because the plaintiff took food from its facility in violation of company policy. The plaintiff maintains that she was fired due to her race.

Obviously, racial discrimination in employment is illegal under Maryland and federal law. So the plaintiff took the appropriate steps. She hired an employment discrimination attorney, who sent an email to the MCCR making a formal “charge of discrimination” against the defendant. The email included a standard EEOC form that is used to file these types of charges.

About six weeks later, the plaintiff received a letter from the MCCR stating it had “received information” submitted by her. The letter said the plaintiff would be “assigned a phone interview” with a member of the Commission’s staff to discuss her situation. Although this interview took place, the MCCR apparently took no further action on the plaintiff’s charges during the statutory 180-day period.

Therefore, once the deadline expired, the plaintiff sued the defendant in court. The trial judge dismissed the case, however, holding that the plaintiff never technically filed a “complaint” with the MCCR. The judge largely based this finding on the wording of the letter, which said the Commission “received information” from the plaintiff as opposed to “received your complaint.”

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals thought that was unnecessarily splitting hairs and reinstated the plaintiff’s complaint. It said the email and EEOC form submitted to the Commission “contained all the required elements” of a “complaint,” and therefore the plaintiff complied with the law. Indeed, the Court noted that nothing in Maryland law requires a specific form, so long as certain information is provided.

Get Help From a Maryland Employment Discrimination Attorney

Employment discrimination cases are full of potential legal traps that ensnare far too many victims. The best way to avoid such problems is to work with an experienced Maryland employment lawyer. Contact the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C., at 410-514-6099 if you have been the victim of workplace discrimination and need assistance today.

(image courtesy of Matt Hoffman)