Archives for July 2013

SJC Confirms that Discrimination based on Association with Another is Illegal in Massachusetts

It’s now officially the law of the Commonwealth, even if last week’s decision by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) was predictable in confirming what the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) decided decades ago. If you are fired from your job based on your association with another person, you have a colorable claim of your own against your employer even if you are not a member of the protected class of persons that forms the foundation for your lawsuit.

Flagg v. Alimed, Inc. was decided by the SJC on July 19. It involved a long-term employee who was fired because his wife suffered the effects of a debilitating brain tumor that left her totally disabled. The employer fired the employee to avoid responsibility for the wife’s medical care, the court noted, and tried to hide its motivation for doing so. Noting that firing an employee because he or she was disabled would be discriminatory under Mass. Gen. L. ch. 151B, the court held that the Flagg employee’s association with his disabled wife was also protected by law.

“When an employer subjects an otherwise satisfactory employee to adverse employment decisions premised on hostility toward the handicapped condition of the employee’s spouse, it is treating the employee as if he were handicapped himself–that is, predicated on discriminatory animus, the employer treats the spouse’s handicap as a characteristic bearing on the employee’s fitness for his job. The employee is thereby subjected to the type of ‘prejudice, stereotypes, or unfounded fear’ relating to handicapped individuals that c. 151B, § 4(16), seeks to protect against,” the SJC held. This conclusion, the court noted, is consistent with 30 years of MCAD decision-making. [Read more…]

Management of Contractual Disputes Among Physicians

Three doctors formed a partnership and developed substantial disputes concerning the operation of their practices, including disagreements over workloads, hours of work, the employment in a key position of the wife of one doctor, and a lack of profitability. We represented one of the physicians. We first drafted an employment contract to help manage the partnership arrangement. After money problems threatened the practice’s survival, our client asked us for help extricating himself from his agreements while protecting his patients. He also asked that we investigate the suspected fraud by one of his partners. Our client was not from Massachusetts and wanted to close his local practice and return to his home to work as a physician.

Result:  After intense negotiations and the eruption of litigation, a settlement was reached. Our client was able to close his Massachusetts practice and return to his home state, where he re-commenced his medical practice.

Wage Act Extended to Employee Who Resides in Florida

In the second decision to extend the reach of Massachusetts employment laws outside its borders, the Appeals Court in June decided that a resident of Florida could sue the CEO of his Massachusetts employer for the harsh penalties provided by the state’s Wage Act. The Court distinguished a prior case that held otherwise, reasoning that it involved an employee who worked outside the United States. Because the Florida-based employee in Dow v. Casale working in various U.S. locations, travelled and occasionally worked in Massachusetts, and directed a broad array of business to the Massachusetts office of his employer, among other things, his situation is different, the court concluded.

“Here, as compared to any other State, Massachusetts has by far the most significant relationship not only to [employers] Starbak and Casale as citizens of the Commonwealth, but also to Dow’s employment relationship with them,” the Court found, applying choice-of-law principles to its analysis. “Indeed, given the particular nature of Dow’s work, his employment with Starbak had no substantial relationship to any place but Massachusetts….In that sense, his work sensibly may be viewed as having ‘occurred’ in Massachusetts where it benefited Starbak, no matter where he physically was located from day to day.” [Read more…]