On November 1, 2022, in Dusel v. Factory Mutual Ins. Co., the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that “close temporal proximity” alone does not establish pretext as this evidence “must be considered alongside the . . . record.” Nor does mere close temporal proximity establish pretext where the employer has a legitimate business reason for taking adverse action against the employee, and more particularly, where the employer subsequently discovers the employee’s misconduct in a separate, unrelated matter. Dusel is a win for employers because it signals that engaging in protected activity will not immunize an employee from the consequences of misconduct that violates company policy if the employer enforces its policy consistently and documents the reasons underlying the employee’s discipline.

Continue Reading First Circuit Upholds Employer’s Win in Retaliation Suit

On July 13, 2022, the Massachusetts Appeals Court signaled a victory for Massachusetts employers who rely upon independent contractors.  In Tiger Home Inspection, Inc. v. Dir. of the Dep’t of Unemployment, the Appeals Court reversed decisions from the Department of Unemployment (“DUA”) and trial court, concluding that the inspectors were independent contractors under Massachusetts’s Unemployment Insurance statute (“Unemployment Law”) and, thus, ineligible for unemployment benefits.  Focusing on Prongs A and C of the Unemployment Law’s “ABC” test for classifying independent contractors, the Appeals Court provided employers with excellent precedent and concrete guidance for navigating those elements of the test.  Notably, the Unemployment Law’s ABC language largely tracks the Massachusetts Wage Act’s “ABC” test, with Prongs A and C using identical language.  As a result, Tiger Home Inspection arguably provides employers with much-needed clarity for navigating both statutes.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Appeals Court Clarifies the A’s and C’s of Independent Contractor Status

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, state legislatures across the country have accelerated their discussion of new laws either restricting or further protecting access to abortions.  A state senate bill in South Carolina, S. 1373 currently pending in the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs, would not only ban almost all abortions in that state, but would also afford novel whistleblower protections. Specifically, S. 1373 imposes criminal penalties, punishable by imprisonment for ten years, for persons who “take any action to impede a whistleblower from communicating about a violation of this article with the Attorney General, a solicitor, or any other person authorized to bring an action in violation of this article.”

Continue Reading South Carolina Abortion Bill Contains Harsh Criminal Penalties for Interfering with Whistleblowers

Exchange Act Rule 21F-17, adopted in 2011 under the auspices of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, prohibits any person from taking any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the SEC, including by “enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement . . . .”  The SEC has prioritized enforcing this rule expansively, by requiring employers to provide SEC-specific carveouts to policies and agreements governing confidentiality.  According to an Order issued last week against The Brink’s Company ( “Brink’s” or “Brinks”), the SEC seems to suggest that employers must provide a specific carveout in restrictive covenant agreements permitting employees and former employees to report information to the SEC in addition to the statutory disclosure provided for in the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA).

Continue Reading Employers Beware – SEC Renews Enforcement Initiative Against Agreements (This Time a Non-Compete) That Interfere with Whistleblowers’ Unfettered Access to the SEC

Employees who resign from work, sue their employer, and assert “constructive discharge” shoulder a heavy burden to demonstrate that they had no choice but to resign. A recent decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Armato v. Town of Stoneham, shows just how heavy that burden is.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Appeals Court Rejects Whistleblower’s Constructive Discharge Claim

Employers take note: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) ruled this week for an employee seeking treble damages for untimely paid wages under the Massachusetts Wage Act (“Wage Act”), even though the employer had corrected its mistake and paid the wages before the employee filed suit. Writing for the majority in Reuter v. City of Methuen, Justice Scott L. Kafker interpreted the “strict time-defined payment policies” and liquidated damages provisions under the Wage Act to find that the employer was responsible for treble the amount of late wages, and not treble the amount of interest, even though the wages were ultimately paid before the complaint was filed. This underscores the importance of paying all wages, including vacation or PTO in a timely fashion.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Court Rules on Massachusetts Wage Act’s Treble Damages

On January 27, 2022, the California Supreme Court, in Lawson v. PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc. (Cal., Jan. 27, 2022) __ P.3d __, 2022 WL 244731, clarified the evidentiary standard for presenting and evaluating retaliation claims under California Labor Code Section 1102.5 (“section 1102.5 whistleblower retaliation claim”).   Lawson involved a workplace retaliation claim brought by a sales representative selling paint products to home improvement stores in Southern California. The plaintiff claimed his employer terminated him because he complained about being instructed to alter the tint of certain paint colors to avoid having to repurchase less popular paints from the retailer later.

In 2003, California lawmakers enacted Labor Code Section 1102.6, setting forth a framework for whistleblower retaliation claims that varied from the burden-shifting test established by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792 (“McDonnell Douglas”).  Despite section 1102.6’s enactment, some California courts continued to apply the McDonnell Douglas test to section 1102.5 whistleblower retaliation claims.

Continue Reading Burden Shifting: California Supreme Court Settles Confusion Over Section 1102.5 Claims

Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (“SJC”) unanimously ruled that the state Personnel Records Law, M.G.L. c. 149, § 52C, provides for a public policy exception to employment at will. Writing on behalf of the full panel in Meehan v. Medical Information Technology, Inc., SJC-13117 (Dec. 17, 2021), Justice Kafker held

November 17, 2021, the Department of Labor (“DOL”), National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) conducted a webinar on Ending Retaliation and Promoting Workers Rights.  The webinar is the first component of a “Joint Initiative” devoted to “vigorous enforcement” of laws against retaliation, through closer inter-agency cooperation.  The webinar was moderated by EEOC Regional Director Robert Canino and involved over 90 minutes of detailed remarks from Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows and Acting DOL Wage and Hour Division Director Jessica Looman.

Continue Reading Joint Initiative of Ending Retaliation and Promoting Workers’ Rights Promises More Aggressive Enforcement of Federal Anti-Retaliation Laws

Supreme Judicial Court Clarifies Breadth of COVID-19 Tolling Order

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (“SJC”) entered an order tolling the statutes of limitations applicable to civil claims. Although some practitioners interpreted the order as tolling only those statutes of limitations set to expire while the order