Maryland Law Creates Jury Trial Right for Employee Claims

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On October 1, 2007, several changes to the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“Maryland FEP Act”) came into law which affect all Maryland employers with fifteen (15) or more employees. Employees now have the right, under certain circumstances, to bring a private cause of action

against employers in state court for alleged violations of the Maryland FEP Act. In addition, the potential scope of relief for employees has been significantly expanded to include compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, and costs.

As a result of the amendments, employees no longer have to wait indefinitely for the Maryland Human Relations Commission (the “Commission”) to process their charges of discrimination before obtaining relief. Employees will likely find the option of filing suit in state court particularly attractive due to the availability of a jury trial, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, and costs, none of which are currently available during a hearing before an administrative law judge at

the Commission.

Under the Maryland FEP Act, an aggrieved employee (“complainant”) must file an administrative complaint with the Commission or a federal human relations commission. The Commission will investigate the administrative complaint and determine whether there is probable cause to believe

that a discriminatory act occurred. Prior to October 1, 2007, if the Commission found such probable cause and the parties could not agree on measures to eliminate the discrimination, then the complainant’s only option was a to proceed with a public hearing before a hearing examiner. The

hearing examiner could have ordered only reinstatement, back pay, and other equitable relief. An award of back pay was capped at 36 months of back pay.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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