Housing and Public Accommodation Discrimination

Prohibited Discrimination in Housing

State law prohibits discrimination in the selling or renting of housing based on a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap, and receipt of public assistance. The law covers virtually all land in Massachusetts. The exception is where the owner of a two-family home occupies one of the residences (i.e. apartment, condominium), but only if there is no discrimination in the advertising of the vacancy, if no broker is involved, and if the homeseeker or renter it not a recipient of public assistance.

One of the most common forms of housing discrimination is refusing to rent or sell a residence to persons with children who would live in the residence. This sometimes occurs where there is lead paint in a residence, which must be removed before children can live in the residence. It is impermissible to refuse to rent or sell to families with children because of the need to remove lead paint.

Prohibited Discrimination in Places of Public Accommodation

Under Massachusetts law, a “place of public accommodation” is one that holds itself open to, and accepts the business of, the general public. Such places include, for example, hospitals, restaurants, motels, buses, shopping malls, and many other places.

It is illegal to discriminate in public accommodation on the basis of a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap, and receipt of public assistance.

What is Public Accommodation Discrimination?

Illegal public accommodation discrimination includes treating the members in a protected class differently (and negatively) than those in a non-protected class in a place of public accommodation.

For instance, some examples of such discrimination may include a bus driver forcing a gay couple from a bus for kissing when a heterosexual couple was not similarly treated, or a hotel refusing to offer a vacant room to a couple with young children.

Do I Need to Be a Member of One of the Races Above to Have a Legal Claim?


Under the law, it is illegal to discriminate against members of the protected classes noted above in housing or in places of public accommodation.  It is not illegal to discriminate against the members of other classes of people not included in one of the classes noted above.

I’m Being Discriminated Against Because of My Race; the Purported Reason is Just a Pretext.  What Must be Proven?

Suppose that you have been denied access to a nightclub; purportedly because you were not “dressed appropriately.”  You feel that as an African-American, the real reason for being denied admittance is your race, not the way that you were dressed.   What must be shown to prevail in a discrimination claim?

First, the nightclub would need to be shown to be a “place of public accommodation.”  Assuming that the nightclub generally invited and served members of the public, this burden could be easily proven.

Next, proof would be needed to show that African-Americans were being discriminated against by being denied admittance at a much higher rate than white patrons.  A plaintiff would not need to prove that no African-Americans were being admitted in order to prevail; instead a plaintiff would need to show that African-Americans were statistically being discriminated against in club admissions.

How Can We Help?

If you believe that you have been the subject of illegal discrimination in housing or public places, we would invite you to call our firm for a free phone consultation.  Once we know about your case, we can determine if we can help and what your options are.

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