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Judge rules Massachusetts public accommodation cases can skip MCAD and go directly to court

7/26/21

By: Jennifer Markowski or Lori Eller

In a recent Massachusetts Superior Court Order, Catherine Peters v. Boston Properties, Inc., et al. Memorandum of Decision and Order on Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Judge Debra A. Squires-Lee held that exhaustion of administrative remedies by first filing with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is not a prerequisite to filing a complaint alleging discrimination in a place of public accommodation.

Plaintiff, Catherine Peters, sought relief for discrimination in a place of public accommodation and violation of her civil rights after allegedly being thrown to the ground and detained for over twenty minutes by security officers at the Prudential Center in Boston, Massachusetts. She claimed that the security officers discriminated against her based on race and gender.

Peters first brought a charge of discrimination in the MCAD which resulted in the issuance of a probable cause finding against BP Inc., Allied, the Shops at the Prudential Center, and Jane / John Doe Allied Universal. Peters later learned of the correct entity that owns the Prudential Center and the names of the individual security officers involved. When Peters moved to amend her charge to substitute those parties, the MCAD denied her motion. She then filed her claims in Suffolk Superior Court.

Charges of discrimination in a place of public accommodation are brought under G. L. c. 272 § 98. However, the damages recoverable under the public accommodation statute are enumerated in Section 5 of Chapter 151B. The defendants sought dismissal of Peters’ claims on the basis that Peters had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies pursuant to Section 9 of Chapter 151B. Judge Squires-Lee rejected the defendants’ argument and agreed with Peters that public accommodation cases are unlike other allegations of discrimination under Chapter 151B because the exclusivity provision found in Section 9 requires exhaustion of administrative remedies only for those acts outlined in Section 4. Section 4 prohibits discrimination by public and private employers against employees, by persons in the insurance and bond business, persons in the mortgage business, and persons in the business of selling or renting real estate, but does not expressly proscribe discrimination in public accommodations. As such, public accommodation claims are not governed by the exclusivity provision.

In sum, while plaintiffs alleging discrimination in a place of public accommodation are permitted to file with the MCAD, they are not required to do so and can go directly to court for relief.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Markowski at [email protected] or Lori Eller at leller[email protected]