Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Plaintiff, an attorney who worked for the defendant Boston law firm, 2004-2008, complained to her superiors and, later, to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, that she was being subjected to discriminatory treatment on the basis of her gender. After her 2007 demotion, on the advice of her attorney, the plaintiff searched the firm's document management system for items that might prove her assertions of discrimination. After these searches were made known to the firm's chairman, the plaintiff's employment was terminated "for cause." Her suit under G. L. 151B, 4 alleged gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, aiding and abetting discrimination, failure to investigate and remedy discrimination, and retaliation. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed dismissal of her claims, in part. Plaintiff presented evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that both her demotion and her termination were the result of unlawful discrimination, as well as evidence allowing an inference that both were the result of retaliation, so that summary judgment was inappropriate. An employee's accessing, copying, and forwarding of documents may, in certain limited circumstances, constitute "protected activity," but only where her actions are reasonable in the totality of the circumstances. View "Verdrager v. Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, P.C." on Justia Law

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DiMasi, a former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, resigned from his position in 2009 and began receiving retirement benefits from the State Board of Retirement (board). A federal grand jury subsequently indicted DiMasi for violating several federal laws while in office. Consequently, the board voted to suspend DiMasi’s retirement allowance. DiMasi sought judicial review, and the municipal court entered summary judgment in favor of DiMasi. The board appealed. Thereafter, a federal jury found DiMasi guilty of seven counts of the superseding indictment. On September 9, 2011, DiMasi was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The board again voted to suspend payment of DiMasi’s retirement allowance. A hearing officer concluded that DiMasi’s convictions became “final” for purposes of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 32, 15(4) when he was sentenced, and therefore, DiMasi forfeited his retirement allowance as of September 9, 2011. On January 14, 2014, all of DiMasi’s direct appeals were exhausted. The municipal court agreed with the board that the term “final” meant the date when DiMasi was sentenced and not the date when all of his direct appeals were exhausted. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that in the context of pension forfeiture, a “final conviction” occurs when an individual is sentenced and not at the conclusion of the appellate process. View "DiMasi v. State Bd. of Retirement" on Justia Law

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Appellant was found guilty of twenty-one counts of unauthorized access to a computer system. That same day Appellant filed an application for voluntary superannuation retirement. The public employment retirement administration commission concluded that Appellant's criminal convictions related to his office or position and, therefore, Appellant was not entitled to receive a retirement allowance under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 32, 15(4). On review, a judge in the district court concluded that Appellant's convictions did not trigger forfeiture under section 15(4). The superior court affirmed. The Appeals Court vacated the judgment, concluding that Appellant's convictions were directly linked to his office or position, and remanded for consideration of Appellant's alternative argument that forfeiture of his pension constituted an excessive fine. On remand, the district court concluded that the fine in this case - forfeiture of Appellant's lifetime retirement allowance - was excessive and violated the Eighth Amendment. A superior court judge reversed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the mandatory forfeiture of a public employee’s retirement allowance upon conviction of a crime “involving violation of the laws applicable to his office or position” is a “fine” under the Eighth Amendment; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the mandatory forfeiture of Appellant's public employee’s retirement allowance was “excessive.” View "Pub. Employee Ret. Admin. Comm’n v. Bettencourt" on Justia Law

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Appellant filed a complaint against Harvard University alleging employment discrimination. The superior court granted Harvard’s motion to dismiss the complaint and denied Appellant’s subsequent attempts to reinstate the case. Appellant appealed and, while his appeal was pending, filed a motion to stay the appeal so that he could file a new complaint and seek additional discovery in the underlying action. A single justice of the Appeals Court denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse her discretion in denying Appellant’s request for relief. View "Myrick v. Harvard University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an eight-count complaint against her former employer (Hospital) and former supervisor (collectively, Defendants). One count of Plaintiff’s complaint survived for purposes of trial. The jury returned a verdict finding that the Hospital terminated Plaintiff’s employment in retaliation for her exercise of the right to take medical leave under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The jury awarded Plaintiff damages in the form of back pay and front pay. Defendants filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (j.n.o.v.) or, in the alternative, for a new trial. The trial judge allowed the motion for j.n.o.v. and ruled that there was insufficient evidence to provide for an award of front pay. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the allowance of Defendant’s motion for j.n.o.v. and affirmed the judge’s order with respect to front pay, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to conclude that Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff because she exercised her right to FMLA leave; and (2) the trial judge did not err in determining that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support an award of front pay. Remanded for further proceedings with respect to Defendants’ alternative request for a new trial. View "Esler v. Sylvia-Reardon" on Justia Law

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Employee was severely injured while traveling abroad on a business trip. Employer had purchased two workers’ compensation policies from two different insurers, the Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania (ISOP) and Great Northern Insurance Company (Great Northern). Both policies provided primary coverage. Employee pursued a workers’ compensation claim. Employer gave notice of the claim only to ISOP. ISOP began making payments pursuant to the policy and defended the claim. When ISOP learned that Employer also had workers’ compensation coverage under its Great Northern policy, ISOP filed a complaint against Great Northern seeking a judgment declaring that the doctrine of equitable contribution required Great Northern to pay one-half of the past and future defense costs and indemnity payments related to Employer’s claim. A federal district court granted summary judgment for Great Northern. ISOP appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court. The Court answered that, where two primary workers’ compensation insurance policies provide coverage for the same loss arising from an injury to an employee, the insurance company that pays that loss has a right of equitable contribution from the coinsurer, regardless of whether the insured gives notice of the injury only to one insurer. View "Ins. Co. of State of Penn. v. Great N. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a black male of African descent who had a medical degree from the University of the West Indies, was terminated from his employment with Mount Auburn Hospital while completing the first year of his residency. Plaintiff filed a ten-count complaint against the Hospital and three physicians who supervised his work, asserting employment discrimination and breach of contract, among other claims. The Appeals Court reversed as to the discrimination and breach of contract claims. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgments in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s claims for employment discrimination and breach of contract, holding that Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment and that Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to allow a jury to hear his claims. View "Bulwer v. Mount Auburn Hospital" on Justia Law

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Two employees were injured in the course of their employment, collected workers’ compensation benefits and then reached settlement agreements with third parties including damages for their pain and suffering. The same insurer insured by employers and sought reimbursement from the employees’ recoveries. In one employee’s case, the superior court judge rejected a settlement agreement providing that the insurer would not have a lien on the damages for pain and suffering. In the second employee’s case, a superior court judge approved a settlement agreement similar to the agreement rejected by the judge in the first employee’s case. The Appeals Court determined that the employees’ awards for pain and suffering were exempt from the insurer’s liens. The Supreme Judicial Court combined the two cases for argument and held that an insurer’s lien does not extend to damages allocated to an employee’s pain and suffering. View "DiCarlo v. Suffolk Constr. Co., Inc. v. Angelini Plastering, Inc." on Justia Law

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EventMonitor, Inc. terminated the employment of Anthony Leness, characterizing the termination as “without cause.” After discovering that Leness had copies the data on a company laptop computer EventMonitor retroactively characterized the termination as having been for cause and stopped paying Leness any severance payments. EventMonitor filed suit against Leness, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of fiduciary duty. Leness counterclaimed for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violations of the Wage Act. A superior court judge entered judgment for Leness on EventMonitor’s claims and Leness’s counterclaims, finding that Leness had not engaged in defalcation of EventMonitor’s assets and had not committed a material breach of the employment contract, and thus that his termination could not have been for cause. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial judge correctly found that Leness did not commit a material breach of the employment contract and did not engage in defalcation of company assets, and therefore, Leness committed no act giving rise to a termination for cause; and (2) the trial judge correctly concluded that Leness was entitled to severance payments under the terms of the contract. View "EventMonitor, Inc. v. Leness" on Justia Law

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The town of Randolph bypassed Plaintiff, a police officer with the town, and appointed three candidates with lower scores on the police sergeant’s examination to its three open police sergeant positions. Plaintiff appealed. The Civil Service Commission dismissed the appeal. Plaintiff sought review of the Commission’s decision in the superior court. A superior court judge denied Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration and entered judgment for the Commission. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court’s denial of Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding (1) the record did not support the concern that the town’s flawed procedure for selecting candidates reflected a departure from basic merit principles; and (2) there was substantial evidence to support a reasonable justification for the town’s bypass. View "Sherman v. Town of Randolph" on Justia Law