For additional information about any of these updates, please contact our office.
We have moved! Please note our new location at 38 Main Street, Suite A in downtown Northampton. (11/30/15)
The Firm Prevails Before the Supreme Judicial Court: The firm has decisively prevailed in closely watched proceedings before Massachusetts’ highest court in Galenski v. Town of Erving et al., SJC-11772. At issue in the case was whether the defendants could refuse to provide our client, a former public school principal, with retiree health insurance benefits. In lower court proceedings, the firm obtained summary judgment and an award of damages in favor of our client. On appeal before the SJC, Attorney Eric Lucentini successfully argued that the lower court’s decision should be affirmed. The parties’ briefs and oral arguments, as well as the SJC’s opinion, can be viewed online. The case has attracted media attention because the high court’s decision will have a significant impact on municipal employee benefits throughout the state. This was Attorney Lucentini’s second appearance before the SJC: in O’Brien v. Borowski, 461 Mass. 415 (2012), he successfully defended the constitutionality of the Commonwealth’s then recently enacted civil harassment statute. (04/17/15)
Anti-Harassment Employer Training: Attorney Eric Lucentini has graduated from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) certified course on effective harassment-prevention training in the workplace. The course, conducted by the MCAD at its Boston headquarters, focuses on thorough, interactive training to prevent discriminatory harassment in the workplace based on sex or sexual orientation, race, age, disability and other statutorily protected characteristics. It is essential that Massachusetts employers understand what constitutes unlawful workplace harassment, how to prevent it, and how to effectively address situations involving potentially harassing behavior. Organization-wide harassment prevention training promotes a respectful workplace and, importantly, can help establish legal defenses in the event of litigation involving a charge of harassment. As a graduate of the MCAD-certified course, Attorney Lucentini is available to provide workplace anti-harassment training throughout Massachusetts to the agency’s high standards. (3/12/15)
Voters Approve Paid Sick Leave Law: Massachusetts voters have approved a ballot measure that will entitle many workers in the Commonwealth to accrue paid sick time. Beginning July 1, 2015, employees at companies with more than ten employees will be able to earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year. Those at smaller companies can earn and use up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year. An employee will be entitled to use earned sick time to care for illnesses, injuries or medical conditions affecting the employee or his/her child, spouse, parent, or the parent of a spouse; attend routine medical appointments; and address the effects of domestic violence. Sick time will accrue at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, and any earned time can be used by an employee beginning on the 90th day after hire. Earned paid sick time must be compensated when used, at the employee’s usual hourly rate. It will be unlawful for an employer to interfere with an employee’s exercise of earned sick time rights, or to retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under the new law. The law, to be codified at M.G.L. c. 149, § 148C, will be enforced by the Attorney General. Employees will also be able to sue individually to enforce their earned sick time rights. (11/05/14)
The Firm Successfully Defends Business Against Attempt to Enforce Non-Compete Clause: Our client briefly worked for a major area retailer, who required employees to sign a form containing a purported non-compete provision permanently barring them from engaging in any related work within fifteen miles of Northampton. After leaving the retailer’s employ, our client opened a store nearby. Relying on the non-compete, the retailer filed suit seeking to shut our client’s business down. On the retailer’s motion for a preliminary injunction, we successfully argued that the language of the non-compete was too vague and overbroad to be enforced. Concluding that the retailer was unlikely to succeed on the merits of its case, and that the balance of harms favored our client, the Court denied the retailer’s motion to shut our client down. (09/19/14)
Domestic Violence Leave: Employers with 50 or more employees should be aware that Massachusetts has enacted a domestic violence leave law requiring them to grant any employee who is a victim of domestic violence up to 15 days of unpaid leave during any 12-month period in order to deal with the situation. Employees are also entitled to take leave to assist “family members” (as defined in the law) who are victims of abuse. An employee seeking leave must provide his or her employer with “advance notice”, except in situations involving “imminent danger” to health or safety. Employers are entitled to review documentation evidencing the abusive behavior (such as medical records or a police report) within “a reasonable time.” Employers are required to maintain “all information related to the employee’s leave” strictly confidential. The new law, which became effective on August 8, 2014, also requires all employers to provide notice to all employees of their rights and responsibilities under the law. (09/08/14)
The Firm Successfully Challenges Town Retirement Policy: In a decision with ramifications throughout the Commonwealth, the Firm has successfully challenged a town’s attempt to restrict its obligations to contribute to retiree health insurance premiums. The case involved a retirement policy adopted by the town’s selectmen purporting to limit eligibility for premium contributions to retirees who had worked in the town for at least a decade, regardless of their overall length of service in the Commonwealth. Our client spent four decades as a teacher then principal in local public schools, and sought continued premium contributions upon her retirement. Relying on its policy, the town refused to pay. We commenced legal action, arguing that the policy violated M.G.L. c. 32B, the statute providing the exclusive mechanism under which Massachusetts towns may provide health insurance to their employees and retirees. In an eight-page decision on motions for summary judgment, the court agreed with our view, declaring the town’s policy unlawful, granting our client over a year’s worth of back due contributions, and requiring the town to make contributions going forward. (01/15/14)
Non-Discriminatory Harassment in the Employment Context: In a recent Superior Court decision, Shipley v. Nagel Cutrell Wendell & Assocs. et al., No. 13-647-A, the court applied M.G.L. c. 258E, the Commonwealth’s civil harassment law, to conduct by an employer in the workplace. The case makes clear that employers must be attuned to all types of harassing behavior, since anti-discrimination laws do not provide the only remedy for workplace harassment. Under Chapter 258E, victims of harassment may seek an injunction to prevent further harassment, civil damages as compensation, and attorneys’ fees. While M.G.L. c. 151B, which prohibits discrimination based on certain protected characteristics, such as race, sex and sexual orientation, provides the exclusive remedy for claims of discriminatory harassment, Shipley makes clear that additional civil remedies may be available for harassment where non-discriminatory motives are at play. Employers should ensure that their workplace policies and employee training addressing unlawful discrimination under M.G.L. c. 151B also cover the possibility of non-discriminatory harassment. (12/13/13)
Height- and Weight-Based Discrimination: Our clients should be aware that Massachusetts is considering legislation that would expand the description of classes protected against discrimination to include discrimination based on “height” and “weight”. The proposed bill would prevent height- and weight-based discrimination by employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, landlords and real estate agents. If the measure becomes law, violations of the statute will be actionable before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), as well as in courts in the Commonwealth with jurisdiction to hear discrimination claims. The MCAD is empowered to grant attorneys’ fees to prevailing claimants and, in egregious cases, can impose punitive damages upon employers. Massachusetts would be only the second state in the country to prohibit height and weight discrimination. (Michigan passed similar legislation in 1976. Municipalities in California, Wisconsin and New York have also enacted ordinances intended to protect workers from weight-based discrimination in the workplace.) (11/4/13)
Wage and Hour: Our clients should take note of a recent Massachusetts federal district court decision awarding treble damages to an auto body repairman whose employer, a collision center, failed to pay him approximately seven thousand dollars in overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq., and M.G.L. c. 149, § 148. The decision is Carroca v. All Star Enterprises and Collision Center, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 12-11202-DJC (D.Mass., July 10, 2013). The defendant argued unsuccessfully that it was exempt from legal overtime requirements by a statutory exemption applicable to businesses “primarily engaged” in vehicle sales. Where the employer admitted that no more than ten percent of its business involved automobile sales, the district court ruled that the employer was not “primarily engaged” in sales, the exemption did not apply, and the employer was therefore liable for the back wages. The award of treble damages – here totaling nearly twenty thousand dollars – was mandatory under Massachusetts law. The case illustrates the caution with which employers should approach perceived statutory overtime exemptions. (10/1/13)
Client alerts are intended to inform you of developments in the law and to provide general information. They do not constitute legal advice regarding specific legal issues and should not be relied upon as such.