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It took barely 24 hours before what is believed to be the first lawsuit  under the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (“MEPA”) to be filed.  On Monday morning, July 2, suit was filed on behalf of Elizabeth Rowe, principal flautist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Suffolk County Superior Court.  Rowe was hired for the role by the BSO in 2004, and the lawsuit claims that she has asked for years to be paid the same as the principal oboe player, a male.  She alleges that the role of principal oboe is the one most comparable to her position and that paying her some $70,000 less per year amounts to a violation of MEPA.

Continue Reading First Lawsuit Filed Under Massachusetts Equal Pay Act

A bill just passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate, with uncharacteristic speed and bipartisan support, has been touted as a “grand bargain,” meant to circumvent political wrangling over several contentious ballot questions slated to be put before the voters this fall. The wide-ranging bill establishes paid family and medical leave, raises the minimum wage, and eliminates premium Sunday pay, among other things. The bill now goes to Governor Baker, who is expected to sign the measure into law. Continue Reading Massachusetts Legislators’ “Grand Bargain” Establishes Paid Medical Leave and Increases Minimum Wage

In 2010, Massachusetts enacted sweeping reforms to its criminal offender record information (CORI) system.  Among the changes was a provision prohibiting most employers from asking about criminal history on initial employment applications.  The measure is known as “ban the box” because it outlaws the once-common practice of inquiring about criminal background by including a checkbox on employment applications.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Attorney General Steps Up Enforcement of “Ban the Box” Law

This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that unused accrued sick time does not constitute “wages” that must be paid upon termination under the Massachusetts Wage Act.  This decision, Mui v. Massachusetts Port Authority, resolves a previously unsettled question in Massachusetts wage and hour law.

Continue Reading Massachusetts High Court Rules That Unused Accrued Sick Time Is Not “Wages”

Photo: Governor Charlie Baker (Public Domain)

Last week, Governor Baker signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into law, which guarantees greater protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers in the workplace.  The bill had unanimously passed in both the House and Senate.  The law prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of pregnancy or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child and from denying these employees a reasonable accommodation when it would not cause the employer undue hardship.

Please click here for a more detailed discussion of the law.

The law will take effect on April 1, 2018.  Employers should start reviewing their current policies now in order to make the necessary revisions to comply with the law.

In a highly-anticipated decision issued yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a suit filed by a woman who was fired because of her off-duty use of medical marijuana.  The SJC held that the woman’s claims for disability discrimination under the Massachusetts antidiscrimination statute, G.L. ch. 151B, could go forward.

Continue Reading Massachusetts High Court Reinstates Suit by Employee Fired for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use

Photo: TipsTimesAdmin via Flickr (CC by 2.0) - tipstimes.com
Photo: TipsTimesAdmin via Flickr (CC by 2.0) – tipstimes.com

Earlier this week, Massachusetts House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a law that would guarantee greater protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers.  The legislation prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of “pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy,” which is defined to include the need to express breast milk for a nursing child.  It also prohibits employers from denying pregnant women and nursing mothers reasonable accommodations if requested by the employee unless it would impose an undue hardship upon the employer.  The bill provides the following examples of such reasonable accommodations: Continue Reading Massachusetts House Passes Legislation to Protect Pregnant and Nursing Mothers in the Workplace

Photo: Chuck Coker via Flickr (CC by ND 2.0)
Photo: Chuck Coker via Flickr (CC by ND 2.0)

Last Thursday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) heard oral arguments in a case that asks whether employers can be required to make accommodations for employees’ off-duty use of medical marijuana.

The case was brought by a woman who suffers from Chron’s disease and who treats the condition with marijuana, as authorized by state law.  (Massachusetts voters passed an initiative in 2012 decriminalizing the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes.  In 2016, Massachusetts voters passed a measure decriminalizing marijuana for recreational use.  Marijuana is illegal for all purposes under federal law.)  After the plaintiff accepted an entry-level job at a marketing company, she was told that she would need to take a drug test.  Continue Reading Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Considers Employees’ Use of Medical Marijuana

Photo: Rusty Clark via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: Rusty Clark via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced that it had decided not to hear the case of Gavin Grimm – the transgender student who sued his school district seeking access to the restroom and locker room facilities that correspond to his gender identity.  The Court’s  change in course followed the Trump Administration’s rescission of an Obama-era Department of Education policy on the issue of bathroom access.  Although Grimm’s suit involves public school students, private employers have been keeping a close eye on the case for any implications it may have on the rights of transgender employees in the workplace.  The answer to that question will have to wait. Continue Reading The Problem with Pronouns

Photo: William Brawley via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: William Brawley via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the dismissal of a suit filed by construction-industry employers and their trade associations seeking to block enforcement of the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law in settings where collective bargaining agreements are in place.

The employers claimed that Section 301 of the Federal Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), preempts any claim that might be brought by an employee or the Massachusetts Attorney General under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law.  The employers argued that, since the Labor-Management Relations Act preempts state-law suits alleging violations of CBAs, it would bar claims brought under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law in union settings because the determination of any such suit would require analysis and interpretation of the applicable CBA.

The trial court dismissed the employers’ suit, finding that it was not ripe because no earned sick time claim had yet been filed by any union employee or by the Massachusetts Attorney General on behalf of unionized workers.  Therefore, the trial court found that the employers’ claims were “at best hypothetical.”  On appeal, the First Circuit upheld the dismissal, agreeing that the employers’ request was not yet ripe because it was “too contingent,” and based on “as-yet-unknown features of as-yet-unspecified claims.”

While the First Circuit’s decision leaves open the question of whether the Labor-Management Relations Act preempts the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law, the opinion does provide some insight into how the issue might be resolved when it arises again.  The First Circuit noted that the Labor-Management Relations Act does not necessarily preempt state laws that establish rights and obligations independent of a labor contract.  Moreover, the fact that a court might need to refer to a CBA to determine an employee’s damages in a state-law claim (such as to calculate the employee’s hourly rate of pay), does not mean that the claim arises under the CBA and should therefore be preempted.

Employers with unionized workforces will want to keep a close eye on this issue as it continues to develop.

The case is Labor Relations Division of Construction Industries of Massachusetts, Inc., et al. v. Healey, No. 15-1906 (Dec. 16, 2016).