This fact sheet is designed to answer some of the questions that a Complainant might have regarding the process involved in the investigation of a complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
What is required to file a Commission complaint?
Discrimination complaints must be filed with the Commission within 300 days after the alleged act of unlawful discrimination.
• For most types of claims, that 300-day deadline starts from the time that a reasonable person would have become aware of facts supporting a claim of discrimination.
• An intake questionnaire is different from a complaint in that it is less formal and does not need to be notarized.
A complaint must be filed under oath, after being signed in front of a notary public.
A complaint must identify the complainant and their address, the entity or person responsible for discrimination ("respondent") and their address, the last date of discrimination, and sufficient facts to put the respondent on notice of what the alleged discrimination is and its basis.
How do complainants decide what entities or people they should name as respondents?
Generally, the right respondent(s) to name are those ultimately and legally responsible for the alleged discrimination or retaliation. The Commission does not decide for complainants who or what respondent to identify as a respondent, or what name to use for a respondent.
• The Maine Supreme Judicial Court (sitting as the Law Court) has ruled that only an employer entity itself - not individual supervisors employed by the entity - can be held liable for employment discrimination. This is because employers are generally considered to be legally responsible for actions that occur in the scope of employment. In some cases, an individual supervisor might be held liable for interference with a complainant’s rights under the MHRA if the supervisor took some discriminatory or retaliatory action outside the scope of their usual responsibilities.
• The Maine Whistleblowers' Protection Act applies only to employment claims.
In housing and places of public accommodation:
An individual or entity can be held responsible for unlawful discrimination (or retaliation for asserting the right to be free of unlawful discrimination).
What happens after I mail my complaint back to the Maine Human Rights Commission?
When the Commission receives your signed Complaint of Discrimination, a Case Number is assigned, and the Respondent is provided with a copy of your Complaint along with a Request for Information and Documents. You will receive a copy of the material that is sent to the Respondent. The Respondent generally has one month to respond to your allegations. Extensions of time may be allowed at the discretion of the Commission.
Will I be able to see the response which the respondent submits?
Yes. A copy of the Respondents Answers will be sent to you when they are received by the Commission. You will have the opportunity to review and provide, in writing, any information which would tend to show that the reason(s) given by the Respondent for its action(s) is not accurate, or does not respond to your allegations of discrimination.
After that, how will the investigation be conducted?
As soon as is possible, an Investigator will be assigned to your case. You will be notified of the name of the Investigator and further communication should be made with that person. The Investigator will review your file and notify both parties as to how the investigation will proceed.
In some cases the Investigator may decide to hold a Fact Finding Conference or Issues and Resolution Conference. In other cases they may decide to conduct an interview with you either by phone or in person. Or they may decide that there is sufficient information in the file from both parties to conclude the investigation and issue an Investigator’s Report.
You should understand that the Investigator does not represent you or the Respondent. The job of the Investigator is to look at all of the information provided by both sides and to determine if there has been a violation of the Maine Human Rights Act.
Since the investigator does not represent me, may I have an attorney?
Whether or not to have an attorney is your decision. Either party may be represented by legal counsel. If you do hire an attorney, he or she should notify the Commission that they will be representing you. Once we have information in the file that you have legal representation, our staff will forward future materials involving the investigation of your case directly to your attorney.
The Commission maintains a list of attorneys who have indicated an interest in representing parties who have cases pending before the Commission. That list is available upon request.
If there is a fact-finding conference, what happens?
A Fact-Finding Conference is a meeting with the Investigator. You and the Respondent will be invited to this meeting. The Fact-Finding Conference is a time to discuss facts of the case. The Investigator may also invite witnesses or other persons to attend. If there is anyone you feel should attend, please write or call the Investigator before the Conference.
The Conference is not a formal hearing as would be held in court. If you or the Respondent have a question that you would like answered, you can ask the Investigator to ask it. The Fact-Finding Conference is not open to the public. It is only open to those persons the Investigator determines to be necessary for the investigation.
Conferences are usually held at a neutral place. Sometimes, however, they are held at the Respondent’s place of business, especially if you are working there or if the Investigator needs to talk to witnesses or see records. If you are concerned about the location, contact the Investigator prior to the scheduled meeting.
Information regarding your case which is confidential
The information gathered during the investigation of your case will be used by the Investigator to prepare an Investigator’s Report. The information in your file remains confidential until the case is either administratively dismissed or listed on a Commission Meeting Agenda. The information is shared with the parties and with their legal representatives during the investigation as long as we have a properly completed Non-Disclosure Form on file.
Information identifying persons who are not parties to the complaint remains confidential after the case is administratively dismissed or listed on a Commission Meeting Agenda.
What is a Settlement?
What is a Settlement? Settlement occurs when the parties agree on ways to resolve the issues raised in your complaint, with a final decision by the Commission. The Commission strongly encourages both sides to settle a case informally before a decision is made as to whether or not discrimination has occurred. The Investigator will work with both sides to reach a settlement. Settlement allows you to create your own solution and can save you time and money. If a settlement is reached, the Commission will agree not to proceed with the case. Settlement discussions are confidential. The final agreement is put in writing and is also confidential. The Commission makes sure the terms of the Agreement are met, and does not formally close the case until all obligations have been met. If you choose, you may withdraw your complaint if you and the Respondent agree to terms. but the Commission will not be able to enforce the terms of your agreement. Discuss possible settlement options in your case with the Investigator, or with the Commission’s Compliance Manager.
What if I don’t settle my case?
There are several things that may happen. You can withdraw your complaint if after reviewing the facts you no longer wish the Commission to continue our investigation. A Withdrawal Form would be signed by you and your case would be closed. You are entitled to withdraw your case until such time as the Commission issues an Investigator’s Report and publishes the case on a Commission agenda.
If settlement does not take place, or you decide not to withdraw, the Investigator will write an Investigator’s Report. The Report contains a summary of the facts given by both sides. At the end of the Report, the Investigator will make a recommendation to the Commission as to whether there are or are not reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful discrimination occurred.
Please be aware that if you request to withdraw your case after the Investigator’s Report is issued and the case is published on a Commission agenda, the Commission is not required to allow the withdrawal of the case. At that time, the Commission has discretion to deny your withdrawal request.
If either party objects to the recommendation of the Investigator, they have a seventeen (17) day period in which to make a written submission of disagreement. The Commissioners will review the Investigator’s Report and any submissions of disagreement and listen to oral argument before they vote on your case and others at a scheduled Commission Meeting which is open to the public.
How long does it take to investigate my Complaint of Discrimination?
Cases are usually opened and the Respondent notified within a month of the time your notarized complaint is received by our Office. The Respondent’s Answers are usually received and sent to you within six weeks of the notification. If your case is settled, or if you decide to withdraw your complaint, a case is completed relatively quickly. The time frame for a full investigation of your case, however, will take several months to over a year. The Commission must complete its process within two years after a complaint is filed.
What is a right-to-sue letter?
If you want to file a civil action directly in Superior Court, and not have the Maine Human Rights Commission investigate your complaint, and if your complaint has been filed with the Commission for 180 days or more, you may ask for a Right-to-Sue letter. The Commission will issue you the letter, and immediately stop investigation of your complaint of discrimination. We will administratively dismiss your complaint upon your request for a Right-to-Sue letter.
If you request a Right-to-Sue letter after the Commission issues an Investigator’s Report and publishes the case on a Commission agenda, the Commission is not required to issue the letter to you. At that time, the Commission has discretion not to issue the Right-to-Sue letter and usually refuses to do so, because the Commission staff has invested time and resources in completing the investigation process.
Can the respondent take legal action against me for filing a complaint?
No. It is against the law for a Respondent to retaliate against you because you filed a complaint of discrimination or because you helped in an investigation. You may file a complaint of Retaliation if you believe that the Respondent has taken such action against you.
What about a court action?
The Commission is the State agency that is responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act. This is different from a court action. Following the investigation, if the case is not resolved and you wish to pursue a binding order under the Maine Human Rights Act, you must file an action in the Maine Superior Court. The Commission itself will file a court action in only a small number of cases in which it finds reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful discrimination occurred. If the Commission finds reasonable grounds to believe discrimination occurred in a case alleging Fair Housing Act violations, the Commission will file an action in court if the case does not resolve.
The deadline for filing a court action is the greater of either 2 years after the act of alleged discrimination or 90 days from a dismissal, right-to-sue letter, or failed conciliation.
Do you offer mediation?
Yes. The Maine Human Rights Commission offers a low-cost and highly-effective Third Party Neutral Mediation Program offering mediators with expertise in MHRC matters; more information about our program is available at https://www.maine.gov/mhrc/programs-resources/mediation.
Is there anything else I should know?
Yes. If you move or change your telephone number, you must let the Commission know. If your phone is disconnected, or if you do not have a phone, you must leave an address or number where you can be reached. Your complaint could be dismissed if the Commission is unable to get in touch with you.