Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the Civil Service Commission concluding that the Boston police department had not demonstrated reasonable justification for bypassing Michael Gannon for employment in 2013 because his hair sample tested positive for cocaine use in 2010, holding that that the Commission's decision was supported by substantial evidence and contained no error of law. Specifically, the Commission determined that the department had not demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that Gannon in fact had used illegal narcotics. The department sought review of the Commission's decision, and the superior court judge overturned the decision and entered judgment for the department. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judge's order allowing the department's motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that the Commission employed the correct standard and its decision contained no error of law and was supported by substantial evidence. View "Boston Police Department v. Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board upholding a certain provision in a collective bargaining agreement between the Board of Higher Education (BHE) and the Massachusetts State College Association, holding that the provision was a proper subject of collective bargaining. The provision at issue placed a cap on the percentage of courses taught by part-time faculty at the Commonwealth's State colleges. On appeal, the BHE argued that although it bargained for this provision, the provision was not enforceable because it impermissibly intruded on the nondelegable managerial prerogatives of the State college boards of trustees. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the provision was valid and enforceable. View "Board of Higher Education v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial judge finding the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) liable for a retaliatory termination and awarding a total damages of $1,332,271, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. The jury found the MWRA terminated Plaintiff in retaliation for his taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2615, and expressing his intention to take FMLA leave in the future. The jury awarded back pay damages for Plaintiff's lost wages, made an advisory award of damages for the future loss of Plaintiff's pension benefits, and awarded damages for emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial judge further awarded liquidated damages and attorney's fees and costs. The MWRA appealed, primarily challenging the jury instructions. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial judge did not commit prejudicial error in instructing the jury; and (2) there was no abuse if discretion in calculating and awarding damages. View "DaPrato v. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning whether retail salespeople who are paid entirely in commissions or draws are entitled to additional overtime or Sunday pay, the Supreme Judicial Court held that such employees are entitled to overtime or Sunday pay with separate and additional payments of one and one-half times the minimum wage for every hour the employees worked over forty hours or on Sunday. At issue before the Court was whether the defendant employers in this case satisfied their obligations under the overtime statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, 1A, and the Sunday pay statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 136, 6, when they paid draws or commissions that equaled or exceeded the minimum wage for the plaintiff employees' first forty hours of work and one and one-half times the minimum wage for all hours worked over forty hours or on Sunday. The Supreme Judicial Court held that draws and commissions cannot be allocated retroactively as hourly and overtime wages and Sunday pay even where the draws and commissions equal or exceed the minimum wage for the employees' first forty hours of work and one and one-half times the minimum wage for all hours worked over forty hours or on Sunday. View "Sullivan v. Sleepy's LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case brought under the Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 150, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the denial of Plaintiff's motion for class certification, holding that Mass. R. Civ. P. 23, as amended, provides the correct standard for determining class certification in a claim under the wage laws and that Plaintiff met his burden of demonstrating numerosity under that rule. Plaintiff alleged on behalf of himself and a putative class of similarly situated employees that Defendant had a practice of violating the "reporting pay" or "three hour" requirement of 454 Code Mass. Regs. 27.04(1). At issue was whether either the Wage Act or the minimum fair wage law, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, 20, specify a different standard for class certification from that set forth in Rule 23 and whether the numerosity requirement was satisfied in this case. The motion judge denied Plaintiff's motion for class certification, concluding that the class was insufficiently numerous to satisfy the certification requirements of Rule 23. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings, holding that the motion judge correctly used the Rule 23 factors to analyze Plaintiff's claim but that the judge abused his discretion in denying class certification. View "Gammella v. P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated in part and affirmed in part the decision of the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board upholding the Department of Labor Relations' (DLR) dismissal of Employees' challenges under the First Amendment to the exclusive representation and the mandatory agency fee provisions of the collective bargaining statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 150E, holding that Employees' constitutional challenge to the agency fee provision was moot and that the First Amendment challenge to the exclusive representation provisions of the statute was foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent. While this case was on appeal, the United States Supreme Court held, in Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) that all State agency fee laws violate the First Amendment by compelling nonmembers of public sector unions to support their unions' speech. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) because the unions voluntarily stopped collecting agency fees to comply with Janus, Employees' agency fee provision challenge was moot; and (2) because the Supreme Court has deemed exclusive representation to be constitutional, Employees' challenge to the exclusive representation provisions of the statute were without merit. View "Branch v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants and the denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, holding that Plaintiffs, who worked for Defendants’ company that grew, harvested, packages, and distributed bean sprouts, were entitled to overtime pay for the hours they worked over forty each week under the overtime statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, 1A. The superior court judge concluded Plaintiffs were not entitled to overtime wages because the work they performed fell under the agricultural exemption to the overtime statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, 1A. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed after reading the plain language of the exemption in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, 1A(19) narrowly in include only the work of planting, raising, and harvesting crops, holding that Plaintiffs were not “engaged in agriculture and farming” within the meaning of the agricultural exemption and thus were entitled to overtime pay as provided by the overtime statute. View "Arias-Villano v. Chang & Sons Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the award of attorney’s fees to Plaintiffs under the fee-shifting provisions of the Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, 148, 150, holding that the “catalyst test” applied to the Wage Act claims and that the trial judge correctly found that Plaintiffs satisfied that test in this case. Plaintiffs were employees who filed a claim against their employer. The end result was a favorable settlement agreement and stipulation of dismissal. Plaintiffs then filed a motion for attorney’s fees. Defendants opposed the motion, arguing that the test for determining prevailing party status under federal fee-shifting statutes was the test established by Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598 (2001). The judge concluded that the catalyst test and not the Buckhannon test applied to Massachusetts fee-shifting statues and that, under this test, Plaintiffs were “prevailing parties” for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees and costs. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the catalyst test applies to Wage Act claims; and (2) the trial judge did not err in finding that Plaintiffs satisfied the catalyst test in this case. View "Ferman v. Sturgis Cleaners, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court’s allowance of Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and remanded this discrimination case, holding that the trial judge erred in determining that Plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of showing a prima facie case of discrimination. Plaintiff, a lieutenant in the Massachusetts State police, brought this Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, 4 action alleging that he suffered discrimination when he was denied a transfer to a different troop station on the basis of his age, race, or national origin. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the State police, holding that Plaintiff did not meet his burden of showing that the denial of his request for a lateral transfer was an “adverse employment action.” The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court’s judgment, holding (1) under certain circumstances, the failure to grant a lateral transfer to a preferred position may constitute an adverse employment action under ch. 151B; and (2) because Plaintiff met his burden of showing a prima facie case of discrimination, this case is remanded to the motion judge to decide the issue of whether Plaintiff’s request for a lateral transfer was motivated by discriminatory animus. View "Yee v. Massachusetts State Police" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decisions of the superior court judges allowing two police officers’ motions for judgment on the pleadings and vacating the decisions of the Essex Regional Retirement Board and the State Board of Retirement denying the officers a retirement allowance under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 32, 15(4) due to the officers’ respective criminal convictions, holding that requiring the forfeiture of the officers’ pension allowances was in error. John Swallow, a police sergeant for the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, was on administrative leave when he was charged with crimes related to the discharge of his personal firearm. Brian O’Hare, a police sergeant of the State police, was charged with the federal crime of using the Internet to entice a person under the age of eighteen to engage in unlawful sexual activity. The two boards in these cases each concluded that the officers’ convictions violated the fundamental tenets of their positions as law enforcement officials and denied them a retirement allowance. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that section 15(4) did not require the forfeiture of the officers' pension allowances. View "Essex Regional Retirement Board v. Swallow" on Justia Law