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Archive for March, 2017

WHEN IS THE DUTY TO ENGAGE IN THE INTERACTIVE PROCESS TRIGGERED?

Posted on: March 27th, 2017 by admin

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”).

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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.

 

 

“Non Compete Confusion” Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly quotes David Belfort

Posted on: March 15th, 2017 by admin

2013-david-b-photo-150x150B&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.

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Be sure to read the full article at:  http://masslawyersweekly.com/2017/03/09/company-acquisition-leads-to-non-compete-confusion