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Maine Attorneys Knowledgeable in Employment Discrimination Matters

Employees are entitled to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment because of a protected class such as sex, age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Reporting discrimination and harassment by a coworker, supervisor, or boss is a protected activity. Unfortunately, some employees are subjected to retaliation for reporting and opposing discrimination and harassment, filing a complaint with one of the agencies charged with investigating discrimination and harassment, or participating in an investigation regarding discrimination or harassment. At the Maine Employee Rights Group, our knowledgeable Maine employment discrimination lawyers can help you file suit under state and federal laws to recover compensation or obtain reinstatement as appropriate.

Whistleblower Retaliation

Under the Maine Whistleblowers' Protection Act, employees who engage in protected activities, such as reporting what the employee reasonably believes to be an unlawful or unsafe practice, reporting a deviation from the standard of patient care for medical employees, or refusing to comply with an unlawful or very dangerous directive from their employer are protected from retaliation.

Retaliation can include threats, demotion, reduced pay, termination, or other adverse actions taken in response to the employee engaging in the protected activity. Before you pursue litigation, you must (in most cases) first report the violation to your employer and file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.

There are also a number of federal statutes that provide additional protections to employees who blow the whistle including federal laws that protect truckers and railroad workers who report unlawful and unsafe practices and the False Claims Act which protects employees who report concerns regarding an employer submitting fraudulent billing in exchange for federal funds.

Disability Discrimination

Both federal and Maine laws prohibit disability discrimination in the workplace. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from employment discrimination on the basis of a disability—that is, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as hearing, breathing, working, or caring for yourself. The ADA also protects employees when their employer discriminates against them because the employer perceives the employee to have a disability, even if they do not. The ADA covers employees who work for employers with 15 or more employees.

The Maine Human Rights Act also protects employees from disability discrimination. The Maine Human Rights Act has a more inclusive definition of what types of conditions qualify for protection and covers all employees.

Under both the ADA and the Maine Human Rights Act, employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations for their disabilities so long as the employee can be accommodated without undue hardship to the employer. An employer’s failure to accommodate an employees’ disability and termination of an employee for requesting or needing an accommodation violates state and federal law.

You can bring a lawsuit for damages under the ADA and Maine Human Rights Act if your employer discriminates against you, fails to provide a reasonable accommodation, or retaliates against you for complaining about discrimination.

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is prohibited in Maine. A key difference between Maine's anti-discrimination law (the Maine Human Rights Act) and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act is that the former covers employees of all ages while the ADEA only applies to employees over age 40. Another difference is that the Maine Human Rights Act covers employers with 1-14 employees as well as larger employers. The federal law only covers employers with 20 or more employees. In Maine, all workers who prevail in an age discrimination lawsuit based on the Maine Human Rights Act are eligible to recover lost wages. Depending on the number of people employed by the employer, the employee may also be entitled to recover civil penalties or compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Sex Discrimination

It is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex under both Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Maine Human Rights Act. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under both laws and can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and offensive comments. In some cases, sexual harassment must be reported to the employer and the employer must be given a chance to take corrective action, before an employee can sue the employer for harassment.

You can sue an employer for sex discrimination under either law, but different procedural rules apply. For example, in order to sue under Title VII, the employer must have 15 or more employees and a charge must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In order to sue under the Maine Human Rights Act, you must first file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission within 300 days of the acts constituting discrimination. If the employer has 15 or more employees, the Maine Human Rights Commission will dual-file the complaint with EEOC thus protecting the employees’ right to proceed under the Maine Human Rights Act and Title VII..

Pregnancy Discrimination

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act amends the Civil Rights Act to provide anti-discrimination protection for pregnant workers. The Maine Human Rights Act includes protection for pregnant workers by extending its definition of "sex" to include pregnancy and medical conditions arising from pregnancy. The Maine Human Rights Act also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees to the same extent that the employer must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.

Additionally, both federal and Maine laws provide for family medical leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Maine law protects employees who need to take this leave as long as their employers have at least 15 employees. Federal law only covers employers with 50 or more employees.

Race Discrimination

Both the Maine Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit race discrimination. Race discrimination exists when an employer treats someone negatively or differently due to his or her race. For example, if someone refuses to hire a job applicant because he or she is of a particular race or demotes someone because he or she is believed to be of a particular race, these are forms of prohibited race discrimination.

As with sexual harassment, racial harassment that creates a hostile work environment is prohibited as a form of discrimination. There are caps on damages under state law, but state law covers all employers. Federal laws provides more damages to a successful plaintiff suing for race discrimination.

Religious Discrimination

Discrimination against an employee on the basis of religion is unlawful in Maine under both state and federal laws. Religious discrimination occurs when an employer treats a job applicant or employee unfavorably due to his or her sincerely held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs.

Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of an employee except when an accommodation would place more than a minimal burden on the employer's business operations. An employer does not need to accommodate the employee's religious beliefs if this would present an undue hardship, however. An employee who has been unreasonably denied an accommodation or has been harassed due to his or her religious beliefs may have grounds to file a lawsuit for damages.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Under the Maine Human Rights Act, sexual orientation discrimination is illegal. Sexual orientation discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or applicant differently because of their sexual orientation. For instance, if an employer learns that an employee married her same-sex partner and fires the employee because it does not approve of same-sex marriage, that would be sexual orientation discrimination. Harassment against an employee because of their sexual orientations is also illegal if the harassment is severe or pervasive. For instance, if an employer permits its employees to utter anti-gay slurs at a gay employee and treat him with hostility, that evidence could support a harassment claim.

Gender Identity Discrimination

Under the Maine Human Rights Act, an employer may not discriminate against a transgender person because of their gender identity. Transgender workers experience discrimination at high rates. In addition to the typical types of unlawfully discriminatory actions (terminations, refusal to promote, etc.) transgender people face unique forms of discrimination. For example, some employers will harass transgender people by using the wrong gender pronouns to refer to them (this is called misgendering), barring them from the restroom that matches their gender identity, or referring to them by their old name that they stopped using when they went through their gender transition. Transgender people are physically threatened and attacked at rates higher than cisgender people and, as such, transgender workers may experience physically threating harassment in the workplace more than other workers.

Unlawful Harassment

Employees have a right to be free from unlawful harassment in the workplace that is on the basis of one of the “protected classes” such as race, sex, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and national origin. Harassment includes unwelcome advances (for example, sexual advances or requests for sexual favors), comments, jokes, acts and other verbal or physical conduct that are related to protected class (for example, of an ageist, racial, or religious nature).

There are two forms of unlawful harassment. One is called “quid pro quo” harassment which means that a person is forced to submit to harassment as a condition of employment. Another form of harassment is called “hostile work environment.” This type of harassment must be severe or pervasive to be unlawful. In general, the harassment must be bad enough to interfere with an employee’s work performance or to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

Many people think that bullying and other forms of unfair and arbitrary mistreatment at work constitutes a “hostile work environment.” Unfortunately, this is not true. The law does not protect employees from “harassment” unless the mistreatment is based on one of the protected classes.

An employee has the right to speak up and report to the employer whenever he or she is subjected to any words or conduct that are offensive based on race, sex, age and so on. In fact, in most cases, an employee cannot hold an employer responsible for harassment unless the employee reports it to the employer and gives the employer a reasonable chance to take corrective action.

It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who complains about harassment that is based on a protected class.

Consult an Employment Discrimination Lawyer in Maine

At the Maine Employee Rights Group, our Maine employment discrimination attorneys can advise you on your options if you have been faced with harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, and we can represent you in a lawsuit against an employer. Our firm represents employees and job applicants in Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Brunswick, Falmouth, Augusta, Waterville, Bangor, York, Saco, Biddeford, Berwick, Bath, Rumford, Rangeley, Machias, Calais, Presque Isle, Caribou, Houlton, Bar Harbor, Rockland, Camden, Belfast and other communities across Androscoggin, Aroostook, Cumberland, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo, and York Counties. Contact us at 207.874.0905 or via our online form to set up a consultation with an employment law or whistleblower attorney.