Bennett & Belfort, P.C. is pleased to announce that Craig Levey has been selected by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly to receive the Excellence in the Law Award in the category of “Up and Coming” Lawyers. The “Up & Coming” category is a salute to the rising stars of the Massachusetts Bar who have been practicing for 10 years or less, yet have already distinguished themselves in the practice of law. The 26 award winners were selected based on achievement in the legal field, high peer recognition, community activities, and civil involvement.
Outside of his thriving law practice, Attorney Levey is on the Board of Directors of the Boston Police Foundation, a non-profit organization created to raise financial support for needed resources for the Boston Police Department. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teenage Pregnancy, a non-profit organization that advocates to increase opportunities for youth, and empower young adults to make wise decisions on relationships, parenting, and life.
Attorney Levey is an active member of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s (MBA) Labor & Employment Section Council, where he is co-chair of the 2017 annual conference. At the MBA, Levey co-founded and currently co-moderates the “Feed Your Mind: Legal Lunch” series, a monthly program that discusses commercial litigation topics. Levey is also an active member with the New England – Canada Business Council, an organization that assists to facilitate relationships between businesses in New England and Canada.
The Excellence in the Law Award dinner will be held on Thursday, April 27, 2017 at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston. The ceremony will also recognize individuals in the following categories: Excellence in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Firm Administration / Operations, Marketing, Paralegal Work, and Pro Bono.
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly will publish interviews with the award winners in April in both print and online at www.masslawyersweekly.com.
On March 27, 2017, Bennett & Belfort P.C. partner David E. Belfort again chaired and presented at a seminar entitled “Proving & Valuing Damages in Employment Cases” at Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education’s (MCLE) Boston conference center. Joining Attorney Belfort on the panel were his respected colleagues Attorneys Robert S. Mantell, Esq. of Powers, Jodoin, Margolis & Mantell LLP, Mary E. O’Neal, Esq. of Conn Kavanaugh Rosenthal Peisch & Ford LLP and Honorable Kenneth W. Salinger of the Superior Court, Business Litigation Session. Mr. Belfort moderated the panel and presented an overview of employment law damages, proving wage and hour cases and issues involved with spousal testimony as to emotional distress injury.
Here is a list, of general topics, that were discussed at the Seminar:
- How to Value a New Case and Identify Claims That Have Potential for High Awards/Exposure-and Manage Client Expectations Concerning Damages;
- Whether and How to Effectively Use Financial or Medical Experts at Trial;
- How to Effectively Introduce Damages Evidence in a Failure to Pay Wages Case;
- Effective Strategies for Advancing and Rebuffing Attorney Argument as to Specific Monetary Damage Amounts (MGL c231 s. 13B);
- Dealing with Front Pay Damages-How Long is Too Long;
- Proving Emotional Distress-The Efficacy of Spousal Testimony;
- How to Deal with an “eggshell” Plaintiff and the Admissibility of Plaintiff’s Psychiatric History;
- When Should Counsel Seek to Bifurcate a Trial to Separately Address Liability and Damages- and How Should Employee Advocates Respond?
- How to Minimize the Impact of Damning Liability Evidence When It Comes Time to Defend on Damages? Are There Ways for Defendants to Avoid or Minimize Punitive Damages?;
- How to Craft a Favorable Jury Verdict Questions;
- Should Unemployment Benefit Payments be a Set Off to a Damages Award?;
- Tips for Filing and Opposing an Attorneys’ Fee Petition; and
- How to Advance or Oppose a Motion for Remittitur.
In MCAD & Amanda LaPete v. Country Bank for Savings, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) awarded Complainant (Amanda LaPete), a woman who was terminated while on approved leave for post-partum depression, back pay plus $50,000.00 for emotional distress stemming from her employer’s disability discrimination. Docket No. 10-SEM-02769 (Kaplan, J., February 5, 2017).
While employed by Respondent (Country Bank for Savings), Complainant was granted 17 weeks of leave to give birth, which comprised of accrued sick and vacation time, eight weeks of maternity leave (as permitted by M.G.L. c. 149, § 105D), and an additional four weeks pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
Complainant suffered post-partum depression while on leave and notified Respondent of her disability. She consistently provided Respondent with updates during her leave, including a timeframe for her return to work. Notably, Complainant fully intended to return to work with Respondent, yet her health care provider suggested she take further time off due to persistent depression and anxiety. Complainant requested an additional four weeks of leave, however, Respondent ignored her request and terminated her employment.
The Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute, M.G.L. c.151B, prohibits discrimination by an employer based on disability. To prove a case of disability discrimination for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, complainant must show: (1) that she is “handicapped”; (2) that she is a “qualified handicapped person” capable of performing the essential functions of her job; (3) that she needed a reasonable accommodation to perform her job; (4) that Respondent was aware of her handicap and the need for a reasonable accommodation; (5) that Respondent was aware, or could have been aware, of a means to accommodate her handicap; and (6) that Respondent failed to provide Complainant the reasonable accommodation. Hall v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., 25 MDLR 207, 213-214 (2004).
In Country Bank for Savings, the MCAD Hearing Officer ruled that Complainant established sufficient evidence to prove a prima facie case of disability discrimination for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation by demonstrating that she: 1. was handicapped for purposes of the statute; 2. was qualified to perform the essential functions of her job; 3. required a reasonable accommodation; and 4. adequately kept Respondent informed of her need for an accommodation while out on leave. The MCAD also found that Complainant’s finite request for extended leave was a reasonable accommodation so that she could cope with her post-partum depression.
The MCAD found that Respondent’s termination of Complainant without engaging in an interactive dialogue about the request for extended leave was a violation of the employer’s duty under the statute. Importantly, the Hearing Officer stressed in her decision that an employer is not shielded from liability simply by allowing an employee leave under the FMLA. Rather, the employer has an affirmative responsibility to engage in the interactive process when the employee is preparing to return from leave.
Notably, there was no persuasive evidence that Complainant’s request for extended leave would cause the Respondent an undue burden on its operations or finances.
This decision highlights the requirement that employers understand the timing of when their obligation to engage in the interactive process is triggered. Though a company’s obligation is clear when an employee explicitly requests an accommodation, employers must also engage in the interactive process when they have reason to believe an employee needs a reasonable accommodation absent a specific request citing to the statute.
B&B Partner David Belfort was called upon for comment and quoted extensively in a recent Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (“MLW”) article discussing enforcement of employee non-compete agreements. The front page article entitled “Company acquisition leads to non-compete confusion” was published in the March 9, 2017, edition of MLW and focused on the implications on the enforcement of a restrictive covenant first in the case of an assignment and then as to statutory merger of the employer.
Two recent successive rulings by the Massachusetts Superior Court Business Litigation Session (NetScout Systems, Inc. v. Hohenstein) demonstrate that an employee non-compete agreement will only be as strong as the structural formation and modifications of the employer corporation. In these two opinions, Judge Kenneth Salinger explained that an “assignment” of rights to a new entity, from one company to another, is treated less deferentially in enforcement of non-competition terms than a statutory merger, where a subsidiary of the original employer stands in the same legal shoes as the original employer.
In an initial ruling on a motion for preliminary injunction, the Court denied enforcement of a non-compete provision which included an assignment provision that included the company’s subsidiaries and affiliates, but did not specifically include its assignees in the definition of the company employer. Moving for reconsideration, the acquiring company was able to present new evidence that it was, in fact, a legal successor to the original company employer. Despite the fact that the Court then found the non-compete to be enforceable, Judge Salinger concluded that the non-compete restrictions were too geographically broad. As such, the non-compete could only be applied to the geographic area in which the employee formerly worked and he was free to continue working in a new region.
In this case the non-compete provision ultimately did not make a practical difference to the employee’s ability to work because the judge only prohibited him from working in his former region, which was outside of the territory he handled at his new employer. Nonetheless, Attorney Belfort explained to MLW that these rulings provide a “cautionary tale” and illustrate the importance of careful drafting and review of non competition agreements. Attorney Belfort also stressed that, while these cases may provide a road map for enforcement to legal professionals, employees who have not sought legal counsel are often pressured to sign non-compete agreements “largely in the dark.” In consideration of the complexity of non-compete agreements and their enforcement, Attorney Belfort added that this is an area of the law that screams out for legislative intervention.
Be sure to read the full article at: http://masslawyersweekly.com/2017/03/09/company-acquisition-leads-to-non-compete-confusion
Attorney Todd Bennett was quoted in the January 9, 2017 edition of “Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.” The article entitled, “State Judge rejects federal test on meal break compensability,” concerns the Massachusetts Wage Act and the Massachusetts Overtime law.
In the underlying case, a group of security guards brought suit against their employer for failing to pay them for meal breaks, and for failing to pay them overtime. The class of employees claimed that because during their meal breaks they were required to remain on site, in uniform, and respond to their radios, they should get paid during these breaks. The Suffolk Superior Court (Business Litigation Session) reviewed whether or not it should apply a) the “Predominant test,” or b) the “Relief from All Duties Test” in deciding upon the employer’s motion to dismiss and to decertify the class action. Essentially, the Predominant test asks whether or not an employee’s meal break time is spent predominantly for the benefit of the employer or the employee. The “Relief from All Duties Test” asks whether or not an employee is relieved from all of her or his duties during the break. In a favorable ruling for the employees, the Court applied the “Relief from Duties Test” in denying the employer’s motion to dismiss and to decertify the class. Attorney Bennett was asked to comment on the outcome of the case, where he provided insight to the Court’s ruling. The full article can be viewed at the following link: http://masslawyersweekly.com/2017/01/05/state-judge-rejects-federal-test-on-meal-break-compensability/
On October 27, 2016, Bennett & Belfort, P.C. attorney Andrew McIlvaine served as an invited panel speaker at the Massachusetts Employment Lawyer Association. He spoke on developments in the law on transgender discrimination in connection with his recent victory on behalf of a transgender client in a case tried before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”).
Attorney McIlvaine discussed the precedential impact of the Tinker v. Securitas Security Services USA case and he shared practice tips on effectively representing claimants in a Public Hearing at the MCAD. The Tinker case involved a managerial supervisor’s ridicule of a transgendered subordinate and his refusal to respect an employee’s request for gender appropriate pronouns. Mr. McIlvaine emphasized that Tinker is an important result because it stands for the proposition that such misconduct can indeed rise to the level of actionable employment discrimination. The emotional distress damages award in the Tinker case, $50,000, is one of the larger “garden variety” emotional distress damages awarded in a case tried at the MCAD. The MCAD also assessed statutory interest and awarded Mr. Tinker reimbursement of virtually all of his attorneys’ fees.
Should you have any questions on the forefront of or any other employment or civil rights matters, please feel free to contact Bennett & Belfort P.C.
We are proud to announce that Thomas Reuters / “Super Lawyers” has listed Bennett & Belfort P.C. Partners, David E. Belfort; Todd J. Bennett; Eric R. LeBlanc; and Michael L. Mason among the 2016 New England Super Lawyers/Rising Stars.
Mr. Bennett and Mr. Belfort were selected to the list of top 100 Lawyers in New England. Attorney Belfort was selected as a “Super Lawyer” in the area of Employment Litigation, and Attorney Bennett was selected as a “Super Lawyer” in the area of Business Litigation. Attorney Mason was selected as a “Super Lawyer” in the area of Employment and Labor, and Attorney LeBlanc was selected as a “Rising Star (Super Lawyers under 40)” in the area of Business Litigation.
“Super Lawyers” evaluates attorneys who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. While up to 5 percent of the lawyers in a state are named to Super Lawyers, no more than 2.5 percent are named to Rising Stars.
Bennett & Belfort P.C. concentrates its practice in business and commercial litigation and employment law and litigation.
Among the ballot questions posed this Election Day, November 8, Question 4 asks voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana (and to regulate it similar to alcoholic beverages). While Massachusetts has permitted medical marijuana since 2013, legalized marijuana raises a number of different questions. Among the most important of these is: how would legalized marijuana impact the workplace?
To the extent the proposed legislation discusses employer’s ability to prohibit marijuana use, it states:
“This chapter shall not require an employer to permit or accommodate conduct otherwise allowed by this chapter in the workplace and shall not affect the authority of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees.” Section 2 (e).
On its face, the law makes clear that employers are still free to prohibit the use of marijuana while at the workplace. Some employers are even required to prohibit marijuana use. For example, Federal contractors and employers who receive federal grant money may be regulated by the federal Drug Free Workplace Act, which requires those employers to adopt a zero tolerance policy at their workplaces, and requires the adoption of other activities aimed at maintaining a drug free workplace. Similarly, many employers with workers in safety-sensitive positions, including employers of commercial drivers, will want to adopt comprehensive drug policies that make clear that marijuana is not permitted onsite.
For employees, it is important to be familiar with whatever drug policies the employer has in place. Recreational marijuana users do not have the same theoretical protections that extend to individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, who may have protection under state anti-discrimination laws. Unlike other states to enact marijuana legislation, Massachusetts does not have a provision that prohibits employers from terminating employees who engage in lawful conduct outside of the workplace.
The language proposed by Question 4 is silent about drug testing in the workplace. It is likely that Massachusetts privacy laws will continue to limit an employer’s ability to drug test employees. In general, Massachusetts privacy laws already limit private sector employers’ ability to administer random drug testing, and prevent public sector employers from administering drug tests unless the employer has probable cause.
Bennett & Belfort, partner, David E. Belfort, along with MBA Labor and Employment Section Council Vice-Chair Attorney Meghan H. Slack, co-chaired a September 29, 2016, panel at the Massachusetts Bar Association entitled “Handling Psychiatric Disabilities in the Workplace.”
The panelists included, Attorney Laurence J. Donoghue of Morgan, Brown & Joy and Attorney Susan Fendell of the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee.
The lively discussion covered a wide range of topics impacting employees with psychiatric disabilities and their employers. The panelists debated wide ranging issues from hiring to separation, including reasonable accommodations, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and violence in the workplace.
On September 1, 2016, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) issued important Gender Identity Guidance on complying with Massachusetts’ laws forbidding discrimination based on gender identity.
Gender identity has been defined in Massachusetts as meaning “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.” M.G.L. c.4, sec. 7, fifty nine. The term encompasses, but is not limited to, persons who are transgender.
In support of the guidelines, the MCAD cited the Tinker v. Securitas Security Services USA, et al. case in which Bennet & Belfort, P.C., Attorney Andrew S. McIlvaine, on behalf of his client, Alyx Tinker, obtained a favorable decision in a 2016 transgender discrimination case. MCAD Docket No. 13-BEM-01906, Decision Of The Hearing Officer (August 9, 2016). The case is cited by the MCAD in support of the rule that a supervisor’s ridicule of a transgendered subordinate and refusal to respect an employee’s request for gender appropriate pronouns can amount to unlawful employment discrimination. M.C.A.D. Gender Identity Guidance, pg. 2 (Sept. 1, 2016).
The Guidance also offers instructions on complying with Massachusetts laws forbidding gender identity discrimination in housing, credit, and public accommodation settings.
Should you have any questions on this or any other employment or civil rights matters, please feel free to contact Bennett & Belfort P.C.