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Human Rights Commission

Members of the Human Rights Commission outreaching during the Fair and Affordable Housing Open House event

Cambridge Human Rights Commission

The Cambridge Human Rights Commission (CHRC) was established in 1984 to protect the civil rights of residents and visitors to the city. The Commission enforces two ordinances: the Cambridge Human Rights Ordinance, chapter 2.76 and the Cambridge Fair Housing Ordinance, chapter 14.04. In operational terms, this means the Commission is a city law enforcement agency that investigates and adjudicate complaints of discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodation and education. Additionally, the Commission aids the City of Cambridge by educating both businesses and residents, providing community outreach, and cooperating with other city, state and federal agencies. The Commission is available to conduct workshop presentations on fair housing and employment discrimination for community groups, social service agencies, and schools. 

The Commission has employees who speak Spanish and can also use a language interpretation service to assist complainants.

Have you experienced discrimination in the City of Cambridge?

Use our online form to start the intake process.

Click here to contact the Human Rights Commission.


Click here to view the video link via YouTube.

Fair Housing brochure now available in online and print formats in multiple languages.

Click here to view the Fair Housing brochure: English

 አማርኛ (Amharic) | عربي (Arabic) | বাংলা (Bengali) | 中文 (Chinese)| Español | Kreyòl ayisyen (Haitian Creole) | Soomaali (Somali) | Português

The brochure is available as a printable PDF: English 

አማርኛ (Amharic) | عربي (Arabic) | বাংলা (Bengali) | 中文 (Chinese)| Español | Kreyòl ayisyen (Haitian Creole) | Soomaali (Somali) | Português

Have housing questions?

Click below to read our housing frequently asked questions in the following languages.

አማርኛ (Amharic) عربي (Arabic) | বাংলা (Bangla) | 简体中文  (Simplified Chinese) | English | Español (Spanish) Kreyòl ayisyen (Haitian Creole) | Português (Portuguese)

Gender Identity and the Law Public Accommodation Training

Effective Oct. 1, 2016, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in places of public accommodation.  A place of public accommodation as defined in M.G.L.c. 272 s. 92A, includes any place open to and serving the public. On June 13, 2019, the Cambridge Human Rights Commission and the City of Cambridge's LGBTQ+ Commission conducted a training for businesses on understanding this update to the law.  Click here to learn more about how businesses can comply with the state’s gender identity non-discrimination law in places of public accommodation. In addition, the training covered best practices for maintaining inclusive environments regardless of one’s gender identity. Click here for Resource List for local businesses.

2020 Tenants' Rights and Resources Notification Ordinance

As of October 14, 2020, the recently enacted 2020 Tenants' Rights and Resources Notification Ordinance is in effect. The City of Cambridge has prepared the following resource to support residents to understand the purpose and requirements of the ordinance. The purpose of the Ordinance is to ensure that housing information and resources are widely disseminated and that best practices are implemented at the start of and throughout tenancies in order to maintain housing stability for the City’s residents, neighborhoods, and community.

For more information on basic landlord and tenant rights click on the tools below. 

image for AG's Guide to Landlord/Tenant Rights Mass Legal Help logo

Would you like to provide us feedback about your experience with the Human Rights Commission?

 Please click here to complete our survey. Thank you!

Tips and FAQs

Have you experienced discrimination in the City of Cambridge?

What is discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when a policy or practice segregates, creates unequal status, separates or has a disproportionate impact on a person based on his or her membership in one or more legally protected categories. The protected categories under the Cambridge Human Rights Ordinance and the Cambridge Fair Housing Ordinance are the following:

  • Disability – Defined consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin or Ancestry
  • Family Status
  • Source of Income, includes Section 8 and public benefits
  • Marital Status, includes married and non-married individuals
  • Sex: Male or female, includes allegations of sexual harassment
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual
  • Age
  • Religious Creed
  • Military Status

Discrimination can impact a person in multiple areas of his or her life, including, but not limited to, housing, employment, access to public accommodations, education, provision of public services, banking services and insurance. If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination in Cambridge, contact the Cambridge Human Rights Commission.

What is the CHRC complaint process?

The Commission will provide a thorough, impartial investigation of the complaint, which may include witness interviews, site visits, and the collection of relevant documents. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Commission will issue a written determination explaining its findings. The Human Rights Commission does not represent either party during the investigation; it is a neutral party.

What are the possible outcomes of an investigation?

The investigation of your complaint may result in:

  • An agreement between both sides, reached with the help of the Commission.
  • A final determination issued by the Commission, which states that, based upon the evidence, there is a "Lack of Probable Cause" to believe that discrimination has occurred. In this event, the case will be dismissed.
  • A final determination issued by the Commission, which states that, based upon the evidence, there is "Probable Cause" to believe that discrimination occurred. In this event, efforts to conciliate an outcome acceptable to both parties will take place.
  • If efforts to conciliate are unsuccessful, a public hearing will be held at a later date. A public hearing is a full legal hearing. At the hearing, parties will have opportunities to present evidence and argue their position. The results of the hearing are legally binding.

What are some remedies if discrimination is found?

If, during the Commission’s investigation, the evidence is sufficient to show that discrimination may have occurred (Probable Cause), the Commission will attempt conciliation between the parties. If the Commission’s conciliation efforts prove unsuccessful, it will schedule a public hearing at the Commission. The Commission has the authority to provide various remedies after hearing, including filing a criminal complaint in District Court, levying civil fines of up to $300 for each violation, filing a civil complaint in Superior Court seeking injunctive relief, and seeking an award of damages, expenses and other relief. If Probable Cause is found in a complaint filed under the Cambridge Fair Housing Ordinance, either party may opt to remove the case for trial in the Massachusetts Superior Court or to the Attorney General’s Office for review and resolution.

What is covered by the Cambridge Fair Housing Ordinance in relation to Housing Discrimination?

The Fair Housing Ordinance prohibits discrimination in real estate transactions such as:

  • viewing or renting an apartment
  • terms and conditions of tenancy
  • refusing to reasonably accommodate a person with a  disability if the accommodation would not cause an undue hardship to the landlord
  • viewing or purchasing a home
  • applying for or obtaining a mortgage
  • purchasing homeowners' or renters' insurance
  • printing, publicizing or advertising housing in a discriminatory manner
Under the law, landlords, sellers and rental agents may use any reasonable standard to determine which applicants are selected, as long as that standard is applied equally and uniformly to all applicants. Tenant selection may be based on:
  • an applicant's ability to pay the rent
  • an applicant's ability to take care of the apartment and to respect the rights of others
  • NOTE: there is an exemption for 2-family dwellings, when the owner lives there
  • A person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in housing should contact the Cambridge Human Rights Commission to schedule an intake interview to review their allegations.

Do I need a lawyer to file a complaint?

You are not required to have an attorney to file a complaint or to represent you in any proceeding before the Commission, although you may retain one at your own expense at any time. During the investigation of your complaint, the Commission acts as a neutral party in gathering evidence and determining the merits of the complaint. Upon the completion of the investigation, if the Commission determines that there is sufficient evidence to find that discrimination may have occurred, the Commission will endeavor to conciliate the matter. If conciliation is unsuccessful, a public hearing will be scheduled and a Commission attorney will be provided to represent you at the hearing at no cost. You may retain your own attorney at your own expense.

What information should I provide for a complaint?

At the intake meeting, you should be able to provide the following information:
  • Names, work addresses, and work phone numbers of the people or entities you believe discriminated against you
  • Your name, work and home addresses, and work and home phone numbers
  • A concise chronology of discriminatory incidents that you believe occurred, with approximate dates
  • A list of names and phone numbers of witnesses, if known.
  • If you have documents relevant to your complaint, be sure to keep them in a safe place, as you will be asked to submit them during the investigation.

What is employment discrimination?

The Human Rights Ordinance prohibits employment discrimination in Cambridge. In general, complaints of discrimination are brought for two reasons: (1) "Disparate Treatment" - an employer treats a person, who is a member of a protected class (i.e. race/color, national origin, age, etc.), differently than someone who is not in their protected class; or (2) "Disparate Impact" - a policy which on its face appears neutral, but actually negatively affects one protected class more than another group of people.

Complaints may be brought if individuals believe they were discriminated against due to:

  • Failure to hire
  • Terms and conditions of employment, including: Sexual Harassment – (1) “Quid Pro Quo”: Conditioning employment or promotion on sexual favors; or (2) “Hostile Work Environment”: Continuous sexual advances and comments that create an uncomfortable and hostile workplace
  • Termination
  • Failure to promote
  • Failure to provide reasonable accommodation to a disabled person, if such accommodation would not cause undue hardship to an employer
  • Retaliation by an employer for actions protected by the anti-discrimination law
A person who believes he or she has been discriminated against with regard to employment in Cambridge should contact the Human Rights Commission to schedule an interview to review their allegations.

What is public accommodation discrimination?

Discrimination in places of public accommodation in Cambridge is prohibited by the Cambridge Human Rights Ordinance. A public accommodation is any business or other establishment that provides goods and services to the public (examples: hotels, restaurants, retail stores, shopping malls, hospitals, rest rooms, parks, theaters, gymnasiums, and transportation terminals). Under the Ordinance it is an unlawful practice for any person directly or indirectly to withhold, deny, or in any manner limit the full use of a public accommodation by any person, or discriminate against such person with respect to the use of such accommodation, because of the race, color, sex, age, religious creed, disability, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, family status, military status or source of income of such person.

Under the Human Rights Ordinance, places of public accommodation are required to remove structural barriers that impede access by persons with disabilities when it is readily achievable to do so. Examples of such barriers include narrow entry doorways, one step entrances without ramps, checkout counters that are too high and parking lots without designated accessible parking spaces.

A person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in a place of public accommodation in Cambridge should contact the Cambridge Human Rights Commission to schedule an interview and file a complaint. 

Who are the members of the commission?

As provided under the Cambridge Human Rights Ordinance, the City Manager has the authority to appoint eleven Commissioners, each serving three year terms. The Commissioners serve as volunteers, and work with the Commission staff in fulfilling the mission of the agency. 

Current Commissioners: 

Mercedes Evans, Chair

Stefanie Haug

Olinda Marshall
Yasmin Padamsee
Judith Laguerre
Josh Stadlan
Stephen Curran
Sue Mapel
Samuel Myers
Caroline Palavicino Maggio
Beverly Sealey


Have questions about housing in Cambridge?

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