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Fiscal Year 2022 (“FY22”) marked the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination’s (“MCAD” or “Commission”) 75th year in existence. Like many government agencies, the MCAD faced a multitude of challenges as a result of the pandemic. The Commission’s FY22 Annual Report both highlights the setbacks and delays caused by the pandemic and expounds on the solutions the Commission is enacting to recover. It also provides interesting statistics on the claims filed and resolved within the past fiscal year.
Complaints Filed at the MCAD in FY22
This past year marked a noticeable increase in the number of complaints filed with the Commission. In FY22, 2,822 complaints were filed with the Commission – a 13% increase from the 2,463 complaints filed in Fiscal Year 2021 (“FY21”). Most of the complaints (2,208) were employment matters. The remaining claims included private housing (285), public accommodation (223), public housing (81), education (23), and credit (2). Breaking down the claims by category, the majority were retaliation (22%) and disability (21%). Sex and race/color also comprised a substantial number of the claims, at 15% and 13% respectively. The remaining categories comprising more than one percent of the claims included national origin (8%), religion (8%), age (7%), and sexual orientation (2%).
The MCAD’s Challenges in FY22
Due to the pandemic, attrition, and hiring issues, the MCAD operated at 67% of normal staffing levels in FY22. Accordingly, all parties experienced significant delays due to case backlog. Currently, there are 1,460 backlogged cases. This number is up from 1,214 backlogged cases in FY21. The Commission stated it plans to hire at least fifteen additional employees in the Investigations Division in fiscal year 2023 to restore the staff to pre-pandemic levels.
Claim Determinations and Dispositions in FY22
In FY22, of the 1,208 determinations reached by the MCAD:
With respect to administrative closures:
The remaining administrative closures occurred for a variety of other reasons.
The entire Hearing Unit retired in 2020. In FY22, the MCAD hired a new Senior Hearing Officer, and added a second Hearing Officer. Two public hearings were conducted in FY22, and the Hearing Unit issued one decision in March 2022. In addition, the Full Commission issued three decisions in FY22. Interestingly, in the Full Commission decisions, in one case, a Hearing Officer’s award of $5,000 in emotional distress damages was upheld, and in another, the Full Commission affirmed the Hearing Officer’s award of $25,000 in emotional distress damages.
ADR in the MCAD
There were 484 mediations and conciliations at the Commission in FY22. The MCAD added some new features to its ADR Unit in FY22, including late mediation. The Commission now allows parties the additional opportunity to mediate after the close of discovery. This allows the parties another opportunity to settle prior to public hearing.
In Person v. Remote Proceedings
The Commission appears to be sticking with remote conferences and proceedings, including public hearings, at least for now. For example, with respect to virtual mediation, the Commission states that the consensus is “a strong preference to continue with remote dispute resolution sessions even after the pandemic has subsided.” However, at the 25th Annual Employment Law Conference on December 2, 2022, Chairwoman Sunila Thomas George stated that it is expected the Commission will again begin offering in-person mediations and conciliations as an option in 2023.