Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the comprehensive remedial scheme provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq., for recovery of damages when an employer violates the federal overtime law, 29 U.S.C. 207, precludes an employee from alternatively pursuing remedies under the wage act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148, for the untimely payment of overtime wages due solely pursuant to the FLSA.Plaintiffs, employees of Defendant, brought this action alleging violations of the FLSA for failure to pay overtime wages, violations of the wage act for failure to pay the FLSA overtime wages in a timely manner, and violations of federal and state minimum wage laws. The motion judge allowed summary judgment as to Defendant's liability under the federal overtime law and wage act. After a trial, the trial judge awarded damages. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding (1) the trial judge's trebling of damages pursuant to the wage act was error; (2) the jury instructions for the calculation of overtime wages under the FLSA contained a methodological error; and (3) Defendant's remaining claims lacked merit. View "Devaney v. Zucchini Gold, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the proper measure of damages for the private right of action for Wage Act violations under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 150 when the employer pays wages after the deadlines provided in the aCt but before the employee files a complaint is treble the amount of the late wages, not trebled interest.When Plaintiff was discharged from her employment with the City of Methuen the City owed her almost $9000 for accrued vacation time. While the Act required the City to pay this amount to Plaintiff on the day of her termination the City did not pay her until three weeks later. One year later, the City paid Plaintiff an amount representing the trebled interest for the three weeks between Plaintiff's termination and the payment of Plaintiff's vacation pay. Plaintiff subsequently brought this lawsuit. The superior court judge concluded that Plaintiff was only entitled to treble interest for the three-week delay in receiving her vacation pay. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case, holding that late-paid wages are "lost wages" for purposes of the Wage Act. View "Reuter v. City of Methuen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court answered two questions of law concerning the authority of counsel or the courts to protect the interests of putative class members when the named plaintiff has died, no party has been substituted for the named plaintiff and no motion has been made to certify the putative class.Charles Kingara brought this lawsuit alleging both class and individual causes of action arising under the wage act, the minimum fair wage law, and the overtime law. Before Kingara's counsel had filed for class certification Kingara died. Thereafter, Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to order notice to putative class members informing them of Kingara's death and inviting them to join the action. After the motion was granted, Defendants filed a petition for interlocutory relief, which resulted in the questions of law before this Court. The Supreme Judicial Court held that, under the circumstances, counsel had no authority to act on behalf of Kingara or the putative class, but the courts may act to protect the interests of the putative class members when those individuals would face significant prejudice without notice. View "Kingara v. Secure Home Health Care Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that, where a franchisee is an "individual performing any service" for a franchisor, the three-prong test set forth in the independent contractor statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148B, applies to the relationship between a franchisor and the individual and is not in conflict with the franchisor's disclosure obligations under the "FTC Franchise Rule."Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that they were 7-Eleven employees and had been misclassified as independent contractors in violation of the independent contractor statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148B. A federal judge granted summary judgment in favor of Eleven, concluding that the independent contractor statue does not apply to franchisee-franchisor relationships because there is a conflict because that statute and the FTC franchise Rule, 16 C.F.R. 436.1 et seq., a series of regulations promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding franchises. The Supreme Judicial Court answered a certified question, holding that the independent contractor statute applies to the franchisor-franchisee relationship and is not in conflict with the franchisor's disclosure obligations set forth in the FTC Franchise Rule. View "Patel v. 7-Eleven, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and remanded in part the judgment of the superior court declaring that the construction of "regular compensation" set out in Public Employee Retirement Administration Comm'n v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd., 478 Mass. 832 (2018) (Vernava), is not limited to accidental disability retirement under Mass. Gen. Laws. Ch, 32, 7 and remanded for an order of dismissal of count two of the complaint, holding that no actual controversy was raised as to the second issue.At issue was whether the term "regular compensation" defined in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 32, 1 excludes vacation or sick leave pay used to supplement workers' compensation payments. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the interpretation of "regular compensation" in Vernava applies consistently across uses of the term in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 32, 5-7, thereby applying to superannuation, ordinary disability, and accidental disability retirement, and does so retroactively; and (2) no actual controversy was raised by the abstract issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies in hypothetical disputes over future Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission memoranda interpreting appellate opinions. View "Worcester Regional Retirement Board v. Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision of the superior court allowing Employer's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, holding that an employer cannot terminate an at-will employee for exercising the right to file a rebuttal to be included in the employee's personnel file, as provided by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 52C.After protesting his termination, Plaintiff brought this complaint alleging wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The superior court allowed Plaintiff's motion to dismiss, concluding that the right to submit a rebuttal was not a sufficiently important public policy to support Plaintiff's claim for wrongful discharge. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that termination of an at-will employee simply for filing a rebuttal expressly authorized by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 249, 52C constitutes a wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. View "Meehan v. Medical Information Technology, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court allowing summary judgment in favor of Credico (USA), LLC in this labor dispute, holding that the independent contractor statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148B, does not establish the standard to determine whether an entity is that individual's joint employer for purposes of the minimum wage and overtime statutes, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, 1 and 1A.Plaintiffs were salespersons directly retained by DFW Consultants, Inc. (DFW), an entity with which Credico subcontracted to provide regional direct sales services for its national clients. Plaintiffs brought this complaint against Credico alleging that Credico was their joint employer and violated the independent contractor statutes and Massachusetts wage laws by misclassifying them as independent contractors rather than employees. The trial court granted summary judgment to Credico on the ground that Credico was not Plaintiffs' joint employer. The Supreme Court affirmed after borrowing the test applied under the Fair Labor Standards Act to determine joint employer status, holding that the record did not support Plaintiffs' contention that they had a reasonable expectation of proving that Credico exercised the type of control over their employment necessary to conclude it was their joint employer. View "Jinks v. Credico (USA) LLC" on Justia Law

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In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court judge denying the Commonwealth's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's complaint alleging wrongful termination under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 185, the Massachusetts whistleblower act, holding that there was no error.In 2014, Governor Deval Patrick dismissed Plaintiff from her position as chair of the Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB), stating to the media that Plaintiff had improperly interfered in a sex offender classification proceeding and had attempted inappropriately to influence the hearing examiner. Plaintiff brought this complaint against Patrick for defamation and against the Commonwealth for wrongful termination. The claims against Patrick were dismissed, but the superior court denied the Commonwealth's motion for summary judgment on the remaining whistleblower claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that genuine issues of material fact remained in dispute, precluding summary judgment in favor of the Commonwealth. View "Edwards v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint with respect to all counts in the complaint with the exception of the public policy claim, holding that Plaintiff's complaint stated a claim for which relief may be granted.Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Children's Hospital Corporation (CHC) under the Domestic Violence and Abuse Leave Act (DVLA), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 52E, alleging that it terminated her employment after she disclosed to CHC that her abuser had violated the terms of a harassment prevention order and that Plaintiff had reported the violation to the police. Plaintiff further asserted that her termination contravened the Commonwealth's public policy to protect victims of abusive behavior. The trial court allowed CHC's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiff's complaint stated a ground upon which relief could be granted; and (2) a public policy ground for relief was unavailable. View "Osborne-Trussell v. Children's Hospital Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the term "service charge" is a defined term in the Tips Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 152A, that the disputed charge at issue in this case was properly characterized as a "service charge," and that the "safe harbor" provision of the Act did not apply in this case.Plaintiffs, service employees for Concert Blue Hill, LLC and its managerial staff (collectively, Blue Hill), alleged that Blue Hill violated the Act by failing to remit to them charges identified as "service" charges on invoices sent to patrons but previously described in initial documents as "administrative" or "overhead" charges. The superior court granted Blue Hill's motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the action. The Appeals Court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the plain meaning of the Act required Blue Hill to remit the disputed charge to Plaintiffs. View "Hovagimian v. Concert Blue Hill, LLC" on Justia Law