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Can I sue or file a complaint against my former employer that would allow me to receive compensation for being bullied/harassed?

Boston, MA |

At my last place of employment, I was bullied/harassed consistently by some of my co-workers. When I came to work, I would get questions or crude jokes about my weight, dressing habits, ethnicity, and a wide range of other personal topics. One day, after a co-worker left her email open, I stumbled upon some emails that confirmed my fears --a select group of my colleagues were talking about me behind my back via email. Upon discovering some of the emails that they interchanged, I sent them to my inbox. Despite having signed an agreement with my past employer that, on the surface, strips me of the right to a court case, can I sue? These lines exemplify one of the conversations that took place: "Is ___ indian?/ Indians don’t know what deodorant is. /Black ppl don’t know what research is."

In addition to having an email message that provides evidence for the conversation above, I also have a tape recording through which one of my colleagues admits that I was being harassed constantly during my time of employment. I also have emails showing that I complained to my boss once, and s/he neglected to take any actions on my behalf that would protect me. Despite having signed an agreement at the start of my employment which committed me to arbitration in case of a dispute, can I sue my former employer in any way? I am deeply insulted by some of the things that were said, as well as the cruel treatment that I was subjected to. If legal action is possible, I would love to obtain help in filing a lawsuit/complaint that would allow me to be compensated --financially or otherwise, for the resulting emotional problems that I experienced due to my co-workers' bullying/harassment. How do I move forward? Can anything be done?

Attorney Answers 4

  1. You should speak with an employment lawyer? Did you ever complain to management about this behavior? Any prospective release of claims will not be enforceable.

    My responding to your question does not create an attorney-client relationship. Also, please keep in mind that I am responding based solely on the information in your question and am most likely doing so from my iPhone and while out of the office. If you want to contact me, feel free to call me at 617-426-7400 or email

  2. I'm sorry that you had to deal with such an awful situation. If you were terminated on the basis of a protected class or if the actions of your coworkers created a hostile work environment you may very well have a cause of action against your former employer. Depending on whether the agreement you signed regarding arbitration is binding, you may need to resolve your claims in arbitration but I would certainly suggest that you consult an employment law attorney as soon as possible to discuss what your best options are, the validity of the agreement regarding arbitration, and what rights or remedies you may have. As for the recording of your coworker, it is unlawful to record another person without their consent and violates the state wiretap statute. Through discovery or in arbitration you should be able to gain access to those emails, among other things. The best thing to do at this point is consult an attorney. Certain discrimination claims are time sensitive and must be submitted properly and within the requisite period before initiating suit against your former employer. Best of luck.

    Please be sure to mark if you find the answer "helpful" or a "best" answer. (It lets us know how we are doing.) Attorney Kremer is licensed to practice in Massachusetts. Please visit her Avvo profile for contact information. In accordance with Avvo guidelines, the following disclaimer applies to all responses given in this forum: The above is NOT legal advice, and is NOT intended to be legal advice. No Attorney-Client relationship is created through the above answer.

  3. Yes, you may have a claim against your employer for harassment, and the fact that you signed an agreement to go to arbitration instead of court does not mean that you can't "sue" them; you just have to do it in an arbitration rather than in court, but, if you win, your recovery is the same. The outcome may also depend on the reason you left your prior employment. Please feel free to call me to discuss your case.

  4. Yes, it sounds like you have claims for discrimination, plus illegal retaliation. I agree with my colleague who says that an arbitration agreement does not mean you forfeited your right to protection under the law.

    It's not clear if you quit or were fired. The law protects employees who are forced to quit due to an illegal hostile work environment. Below is an excerpt from my blog that you may find useful.

    Massachusetts law prohibits an employer from discharging or penalizing an employee who opposes discrimination in the workplace. The protection applies to employees who file formal charges of discrimination in court or an internal complaint with Human Resources or management. The person who files the complaint does not need to be the actual employee who is facing discrimination. Anti-retaliation laws extend to co-workers who corroborate or otherwise support the allegation of discrimination.

    The employee does not have to show that actual discrimination occurred before she can claim illegal retaliation. The employee just have to have an objective, good faith basis for believing that discrimination occurred.

    To make a claim for illegal retaliation, the employee has to show: (1) she filed a complaint; (2) the person who retaliated against her knew about this complaint; (2) the employee then was subject to an adverse employment action like a suspension, termination, transfer, a bad performance review, or a job warning; (3) a causal connection exists between 1 and 2.

    The employee can show a causal connection by direct evidence: Drop this discrimination complaint or I will fire you. If there is no direct evidence, circumstantial evidence is admissible. For example, if there is a close period of time between the employee’s complaint and the negative job action, this can be proof of discrimination under a theory known as “close temporal proximity.” I know, that sounds like a Star Trek term. But, it’s much simpler than that. It just means that retaliation can be inferred from the close time between the complaint and the adverse action.

    This information should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

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