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Supreme Judicial Court Affirms $2 Million Judgment upon jury verdict for Bennett & Belfort client Richard DaPrato against the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

Posted on: June 6th, 2019 by admin

On June 5, 2019, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) affirmed our client’s Suffolk Superior Court jury verdict and judgment in an amount now exceeding $2,000,000 in the case of Richard DaPrato v. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) 482 Mass. 375 (2019) (click on link for SJC slip opinion: DaPrato v MWRA SJC 6.5.19 ).

Mr. DaPrato was represented both at trial and on appeal by David E. Belfort and Andrew S. McIlvaine of Bennett & Belfort, PC, of Cambridge and Robert S. Mantel of Powers, Jodoin, Margolis & Mantell LLP of Boston. Mr. DaPrato sued the MWRA for firing him because he took medical leave for foot surgery and because he planned to take additional leave in the future. Claims in the case included discrimination and retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA (29 U.S.C. sec. 2601 et seq.)), The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, M.G.L. c. 151B.

In the Superior Court case, the jury strongly rejected the MWRA’s argument that Mr. Daprato violated the public trust. Instead, the jury found that the MWRA, a quasi-public entity, engaged in extreme and outrageous misconduct that violated Mr. DaPrato’s rights to medical leave.

On direct appellate review by the SJC, the MWRA sought a reversal of the jury’s decision and a new trial on a myriad of grounds, including that the jury should have been instructed that an honest but unconsciously biased decision to fire a person should excuse an employer from liability for FMLA discrimination. The SJC rejected the appeal, noting that the so-called “good faith or honest belief” FMLA defense relates to avoiding mandatory liquidated damage awards rather than excusing the underlying retaliatory conduct.

The SJC’s resounding rejection of the MWRA’s appeal reinforces the position that an employer cannot automatically presume a disabled employee is violating the terms of their medical leave when they go on vacation during medical leave. At trial, DaPrato’s supervisor acknowledged that he knew DaPrato was on medical leave and testified that had previously approved DaPrato’s vacation to Mexico. DaPrato’s treating physician confirmed that DaPrato was not cleared to return to work during the leave and vacation period. The physician also testified that DaPrato’s vacation activities did not violate his post-surgical restrictions. Furthermore, DaPrato entered his annual vacation in the office calendar system, received permission to park his car at the MWRA facility during the vacation, and attended a staff meeting where he announced that he was leaving on vacation to senior managers. Nonetheless, the MWRA did not seek to review his medical records, declined to conduct an independent medical examination, and ignored the FMLA paperwork that DaPrato submitted. Perhaps most shocking, the MWRA brazenly claimed that DaPrato denied going on vacation altogether when confronted. The SJC affirmed the punitive damages award in full, commenting that it underscored the jury’s conclusion that the MWRA acted in an extreme and outrageous manner. In allowing this punitive damages award to stand, the Court cited to DaPrato’s long tenure without any discipline, the punitive award’s reasonable relationship to the compensatory damages, and the litany of pretext evidence in the record.

The SJC’s decision affirms the trial judgment issued to Mr. DaPrato after his jury trial in the following specific amounts $19,777 in back pay, $188,666 in front pay, $200,000 in emotional distress, $715,385 in punitive damages, $208,443 in liquidated damages, and $605,690 in pre-appeal attorneys’ fees. Including statutory interest of 12%, the aggregate final judgment is expected to significantly exceed $2,000,000.  See Law 360 article: Law 360 6.5.19

Congratulations to our client, Rick DaPrato, and to the entire trial team at Bennett & Belfort PC.

Four Bennett & Belfort P.C. Attorneys Selected 2015 Super Lawyers

Posted on: October 30th, 2015 by admin

SuperLawyers

We are proud to announce that Thomas Reuters / Super Lawyers has again listed Bennett & Belfort P.C. partners Todd J. Bennett, David E. Belfort, Michael L. Mason (Rising Star) and Eric R. LeBlanc (Rising Star) among the 2015 New England Super Lawyers.

Mr. Bennett and Mr. Belfort were selected “Top 100 Lawyers in New England” for a second consecutive year. Attorney Bennett has been named a Super Lawyer for the past five years in the area of Business Litigation while Mr. Belfort has been selected a top Lawyer in the area of Employment Litigation: Plaintiff for the last decade. Mr. Mason and Mr. LeBlanc are once again Rising Stars in the areas of Employment and Labor and Business Litigation, respectively.

Super Lawyers rates lawyers in more than 70 practice areas. They evaluate 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.

Attorneys Belfort and Amundson Present at Hobart and William Smith Colleges Networking Event

Posted on: June 26th, 2015 by admin

HWS Dave & SarahOn June 17, 2015, Bennett & Belfort partner, David E. Belfort and associate, Sarah E. Amundson, co-lectured a presentation entitled “Employment Law:  Primer and Pitfalls” for their alma mater Hobart and William Smith Colleges‘ Professional Networking Group. The discussion constituted a broad introduction to Massachusetts employment law and covered topics such as at-will employment, employee privacy, and the Wage Act.  The event was held at the offices of Moors & Cabot at 200 Devonshire Street, Boston. 

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Belfort Speaks on Employment Issues at Seminar for Attorneys Starting Law Firms

Posted on: June 3rd, 2015 by admin

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Bennett & Belfort, P.C. partner David E. Belfort served as invited faculty for the May 29, 2015 Massachusetts Bar Association legal education conference How to Start and Run a Successful Solo or Small Firm Practice.  Mr. Belfort focused his presentation on practical employment law tips for those forming new law firms.  He discussed employment law basics in the context of Massachusetts law governing personnel management, employment policies (including sexual harassment and privacy), hiring, firing and traps for the unwary.

TODD BENNETT CO-PRESENTS AT MASSACHUSETTS BAR ASSOCIATION LEGAL LUNCH SERIES ON TAKING AND DEFENDING DEPOSITIONS

Posted on: February 2nd, 2015 by admin

Deposition Up CloseOn Wednesday, January 21, 2015,  Partner, Todd J. Bennett, joined colleague Scott Heidorn of Bergstresser & Pollock P.C., to speak about taking and defending depositions for the Massachusetts Bar Association’s “Feed Your Mind: Legal Lunch Series.”  The monthly lunch series, hosted by the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Civil Litigation Section and Young Lawyers Division, provides civil litigators of all experience levels with an opportunity to discuss selected areas of law and exchange ideas in a collegial setting.  Attorney Bennett and Attorney Heidorn co-led a lively, informative conversation on such topics as the rules on taking and defending depositions; how to prepare deposition questions;  the proper ways to put forth objections and respond to improper objections from opposing counsel; and the merits of different styles of questioning.

 

Bennett & Belfort Welcomes Attorney Sarah Amundson to the Firm!

Posted on: December 11th, 2014 by admin

Amundson Ceremony 4Bennett & Belfort P.C. is pleased to announce the addition of Attorney Sarah Amundson to the firm!  Attorney Amundson was officially sworn in, and signed the register of attorneys, on November 19, 2014 at Historic Faneuil Hall.  The ceremony was conducted by Maura S. Doyle, Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court and presided over by SJC Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.  This was the first swearing in ceremony administered by Chief Justice Gants since his appointment in July, 2014.

Attorney Amundson is a recent graduate of Boston College School of Law where she focused on employment law and litigation.  Prior to joining Bennett & Belfort P.C., Attorney Amundson interned with the Massachusetts Attorney General in the Trial Division, assisting with employment litigation, including discrimination matters and contract disputes.  Attorney Amundson also worked in the Massachusetts State Senate in the Office of Senate Counsel where she focused on compliance with federal laws, constitutional law, and municipal charter revision.

Currently, Attorney Amundson practice focuses on employment and business law, civil litigation and landlord/tenant disputes.

Bennett & Belfort, P.C. Attorneys Secure Verdict of Nearly $500,000 in Superior Court Business Litigation dispute.

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by admin

Attorneys Eric LeBlanc and Todd Bennett recently secured a verdict of nearly $500,000 in a business litigation dispute involving shareholders of a closely held corporation. The Bennett & Belfort, P.C. trial team represented Peter Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. As outlined in an 18 page written opinion, the Hon. Justice Cornetta rendered a verdict in favor of both Mr. Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. on all counts.

This complex business litigation matter involved claims of breach of fiduciary duty and a shareholder derivative action. In addition to their success on all affirmative counts, the court issued judgment for Mr. Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. on all counterclaims and third party claims brought against them by shareholder, Richard Silva. Trowt v. Silva, et al. (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-119-14) (18 pages) (Cornetta, J.) (Essex Superior Court) (Civil Action No. 2011-01279) (Oct. 31, 2014). 

Attorneys LeBlanc and Bennett successfully prosecuted individual claims on behalf of Mr. Trowt against Mr. Silva, for breach of fiduciary duty through the introduction of evidence of self-dealing, diversion of corporate opportunity and personal use of corporate resources by Mr. Silva. Bennett and Belfort, P.C. also prevailed on behalf of the shareholder derivative action on behalf of the corporate entity, Beverly Storage& Trailer Leasing, Inc. The Court not only found that Mr. Silva flagrantly violated his fiduciary duties to Mr. Trowt, but also that Mr. Silva improperly siphoned money out of Beverly Storage& Trailer Leasing, Inc., depriving the corporation of capital without a legitimate business purpose.

You can read more about the case in the latest edition of Lawyer’s Weekly.

FOUR BENNETT & BELFORT ATTORNEYS SELECTED AS “SUPERLAWYERS,” AND DAVID BELFORT AND TODD BENNETT WERE SELECTED AS “TOP 100 LAWYERS IN NEW ENGLAND”

Posted on: October 22nd, 2014 by admin

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Bennett & Belfort, P.C. is proud to announce that four of its members were selected as “Super Lawyers” by their peers.

Additionally, partners, David E. Belfort and Todd J. Bennett, were selected as two of 2014’s Top 100 lawyers in New England.

Bennett & Belfort, P.C. attorneys that were selected as 2014 Super lawyers are:

Congratulations to Attorneys Belfort, Bennett, LeBlanc and Mason.

PARTNER, TODD BENNETT, AND ASSOCIATE, SARAH AMUNDSON, QUOTED ON BOSTON.COM

Posted on: September 24th, 2014 by admin

On September 24, 2014, Partner, Todd Bennett, Esq., and Associate, Sarah Amundson, were quoted on Boston.com.  The article entitled, “Should I be Paid if I’m On-Call?” was written by Elaine Varelas, of Keystone Partners, who is a regular contributor to the “Job Doc” section of Boston.com. 

“Should I be Paid if I’m On-Call?” discusses the test for determining whether an employer must pay a non-exempt employee for being on-call.  As with many aspects of the law, the application of this two part test can depend on many different factors.  Failing to pay minimum wage and/or overtime wages can lead to a host of problems for employers, including the potential of facing a civil enforcement action by the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the Department of Labor, and an individual lawsuit or class action lawsuit seeking multiple damages and attorneys’ fees.

When it Comes to Disability Accommodations, Employers Can’t Just Talk the Talk

Posted on: September 22nd, 2014 by admin

WPWe are pleased to announce that Bennett & Belfort, P.C. Attorney Michael L. Mason recently defeated a motion for summary judgment on behalf of a disabled employee seeking the accommodation of a ramp up period when returning from a medical leave of absence.

In Cronin v. Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, a case alleging disability discrimination in the workplace, the Federal court found that there were sufficient material facts in dispute to permit a jury to consider the case.  The plaintiff  claims that his employer denied him a reasonable accommodation and terminated him due to his disability.  After taking a medical leave, Cronin requested to return to work with accommodations including a ‘ramp up’ period to return to a full workload over a short period to acclimate to the job. The Defendant employer filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to dismiss the case.  Defendant argued that the requested ‘ramp up’ period was not reasonable and that it engaged in sufficient discussions with the Plaintiff to meet its obligations to engage in an interactive dialogue.  The Judge found that the case could go to trial, as there was sufficient evidence of bias against the Plaintiff and the company could have provided the modest accommodations that were requested.

This decision is significant because it reinforces the fact that a limited ramp up period can indeed amount to a reasonable accommodation.  In addition, this case highlights the strict requirements of disability accommodation laws.  It is not enough for an employer to merely engage in a perfunctory dialogue with an employee who requests disability accommodations.  Under state and federal law, employers must evaluate accommodation requests in good faith, and they are required to provide accommodations that are reasonable and not unduly burdensome to the employer.

In this case, there was adequate evidence that the employer merely went through the motions in discussing Plaintiff’s requested workplace adjustments.  As such the Court will allow a jury to consider whether the company was justified in rejecting Plaintiff’s request for a limited ramp up period, which led to his separation of employment.

This case illustrates the need for employees and employers to make a concerted effort to evaluate and discuss, in good faith, disability accommodations before reaching a final decision.  Employer’s that simply go through the motions in the interactive dialogue when employees make requests for workplace accommodations do so at their peril.