Firm News & Updates
For additional information about any of these updates, please contact us.
SJC Posts Oral Argument Videos: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has posted videos of Attorney Eric Lucentini's oral arguments before the Court in two important cases, Galenski v. Town of Erving, 471 Mass. 305 (2015), and O'Brien v. Borowski, 471 Mass. 415 (2012). Attorney Lucentini's oral argument in Galenski can be seen here (beginning at 16:00). His argument in O'Brien is here (also beginning at 16:00).
In Galenski, the Firm successfully challenged a town’s attempt to shirk its obligations to contribute to health insurance premiums. The case involved a retirement policy, adopted by the town’s selectboard, purporting to limit some of the town's retirees' eligibility for premium contributions. Our client spent four decades as a teacher then principal in local public schools, and sought continued premium contributions upon her retirement. Citing its policy, the town refused to pay. We sued, arguing the town's policy violated M.G.L. c. 32B, the statute providing the exclusive mechanism under which towns in Massachusetts may provide health insurance to their employees and retirees. In lower court proceedings, we obtained summary judgment and an award of damages in favor of our client. On appeal before the SJC, we successfully argued that the lower court’s decision should be affirmed.
In the O’Brien case, Attorney Lucentini successfully defended the Commonwealth’s then-recently enacted civil harassment statute, G.L. c. 258E, in the face of a challenge to its constitutionality. The appellant had claimed, among other things, that the statute violated his First Amendment right to free speech. O'Brien is the leading Massachusetts case on the civil harassment statute and has been cited time and again courts throughout the commonwealth.
The Firm Secures Dismissal for Client at the MCAD: The firm's attorneys have obtained a lack of probable cause finding on behalf of our client at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The complainant, a property manager whose employment was terminated for misconduct, had alleged sexual harassment-based discrimination against our client, a housing authority. We argued that the complainant's allegations were meritless, both because the conduct alleged by the complainant did not amount to harassment and because, in any event, our client's management were not aware of any alleged harassment at the time it terminated the complainant. In a well-reasoned six-page decision, the MCAD agreed with our client and dismissed the complainant's claims in their entirety. (09/12/21)
Decisive Trial Win for the Firm: The firm has achieved a complete trial victory in the Massachusetts Land Court. Chapman v. Pensivy, No. 18 Misc. 000283 (HPS). At issue in the case were multiple easemements and boundary locations between neighboring properties in rural Williamsburg, Massachusetts. Attorneys Eric and Sandra Lucentini representing the plaintiffs, filed suit to remedy unlawful encroachments on their land by the neighboring defendants, who were also illegally obstructing the plaintiffs' longstanding easement rights by placing objects across one of two rights of way benefitting the plaintiffs' property. The litigation was complicated by the fact that ancient property markers mentioned in the old deeds could no longer be located. This required nuanced analysis of the intentions of the original grantors dating back to the mid-19th century. Following an on-site view of the two properties by Judge Howard P. Speicher (who traveled to Williamsburg from Boston for that purpose), the case was tried before him on April 21, 22 and 29, 2021. Both sides presented expert and fact witnesses and forty-four exhibits were admitted into evidence. After trial, the parties submitted post-trial briefs and requests for findings of fact and rulings of law. The court granted the plaintiffs all of the injunctive and declaratory relief they sought, supporting its order with a carefully-reasoned 28-page decision that decisively vindicated the plaintiffs on each and every point at issue in the case. (07/21/21)
The Firm Prevails Before the Federal Court of Appeals: In a petition for review before the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Attorney Eric Lucentini (as counsel to Kevin W. Jones and Associates) sucessfully argued that the petitioner, an undocumented native and citizen of Guatemala, was entitled to a remand to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for reconsideration of his applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture. The case was Ramirez-Lopez v. Garland, 858 Fed.Appx. 9 (2d Cir. 2021). In removal (deportation) proceedings before the Immigration Court, the petitioner had predicated his applications for relief on his membership in a particular social group consisting of witnesses to gang murder and torture in Guatemala who were publicly involved in reporting to law enforcement. The Immigration Judge erroneously ruled that the petitioner had failed to present a legally cognizable social group and ordered the petitioner deported. When the BIA affirmed the Immigration Judge's decision on appeal, the firm sought further appellate review before the Second Circuit. In the Court of Appeals, we argued that petitioner had clearly presented a cognizable social group, and that to the extent there was any ambiguity the Immigration Judge committed error by failing to seek clarification of the group. In a two-page order, the Court of Appeals agreed with us, vacated the BIA's decision, and remanded to the agency for further review. The decision has received national media attention. (05/04/21)
Attorney Eric Lucentini Hones Jury Trial Skills at National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA): Attorney Lucentini has completed NITA's intensive week-long training in the art of trial skills. NITA is a team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation who dedicate their efforts to developing of skilled and ethical courtroom advocates and improving the adversarial justice system. This immersive course -- NITA's flagship training and one of the country's top professional development programs -- was held at NITA's Rocky Mountain headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. Under real-life conditions, participants underwent multiple days of trial preparation, jury selection practice, opening statements and closing arguments, introduction of evidence and use of exhibits, and development of direct, cross-examination and impeachment techniques. All exercises were videotaped and critiqued. The course culminated in a full mock civil trial before a live jury. (Attorney Lucentini's trial team secured a win for their "client.") NITA is reknowned in the legal community for its high-caliber training, world-class faculty and learning-by-doing method. (04/13/19)
Parties Reach Historic Settlement in Forbes Library Case: In a win-win resolution of a longstanding legal dispute between the Trustees of Forbes Library and the City of Northampton that culminated in litigation, the parties have agreed that Forbes Library is not a City department and its leaders and employees are not City employees, though the Library is "a public institution," according to a historic settlement agreement between the Library's Trustees and City officials resolving their dispute over control of the Library. The Library will continue its practice of holding open meetings and follow the bidding and other laws applicable to entities that spend taxpayer funds, according to the agreement for judgment approved by the court. Attorneys Eric and Sandra Lucentini represented the Trustees in the litigation and settlement negotiations. (06/29/17)
The Firm Files Suit Against City of Northampton on Behalf of the Trustees of Forbes Library: The firm is seeking relief in the Hampshire Family and Probate Court. The Library, one of Western Massachusetts' leading cultural institutions, was established in the late 19th century by the Last Will and Testament of the prominent Northampton Judge Charles E. Forbes, who provided by bequest for the construction of the Library's handsome Neo-Romanesque building as his gift to the citizens of Northampton, conditional on the City's agreement to support the institution in perpetuity. The Library, which houses the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum, operates as a private charitable corporation and, as such, is committed to the oversight of the Massachusetts Attorney General's public charities division. In recent years, the City (which appropriates substantial funds for the Library's operations) has sought to exercise a degree of control over the Trustees that they regard as inconsistent with the exercise of their fiduciary obligations under Judge Forbes' will. The suit seeks declaratory relief clarifying the Trustees' rights and prerogatives. (05/23/16)
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 firm’s 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.