Supreme Judicial Court Discusses Competing Statutory Definitions of “Employee”

On May 10, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court held in Camargo’s Case (SJC-12368) that in determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor for workers’ compensation purposes, the definition of “employee” from the workers’ compensation statute, G.L. c. 152, § 1, must be applied, as opposed to the definition from the independent contractor statute, G.L. c. 149, § 148B.  Applying the appropriate definition, the court determined the plaintiff was an independent contractor and therefore not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

The plaintiff contracted with defendant Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, Inc. (“PCF”) as a newspaper delivery agent. After she was injured delivering newspapers and ultimately relieved of her services, she sought workers’ compensation benefits, which PCF denied on the basis that she was not an employee.  The matter was then brought to the Department of Industrial Accidents (“Department”) which is responsible for resolving workers’ compensation disputes.  The Department applied the workers’ compensation statute’s definition of “employee” and found that the claimant was an independent contractor ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The Plaintiff appealed, contending that the Department should have applied the independent contractor statute’s definition of “employee.”

Historically, the Department has applied the workers’ compensation statute’s definition of “employee” as well as a common law twelve (12) factor test to decide if workers are employees or independent contractors. The court affirmed this practice.  In reaching its conclusion, the court pointed out that the independent contractor statute excludes any reference to workers’ compensation benefits.  If the Legislature had intended for that statute to apply to workers’ compensation claims, it would have included language to that effect.

The court warned of the consequences of having numerous statutory definitions of “employee.” The court listed four Massachusetts laws with competing definitions of an “employee”: the workers’ compensation law, the independent contractor law, an unemployment insurance law, and a law on withholding taxes on wages.  Workers may qualify as employees for one purpose, but an independent contractor for another, making it difficult for them to comprehend their rights.  Accordingly, the court implored the Legislature to harmonize these laws or provide more guidance to workers.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this update, or any other questions regarding labor and employment law, please contact us.

This update is provided for informational purposes only  and should not be considered legal advice.

Doe v. Town of Stoughton

On April 25, 2018, the federal district court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order dismissing several claims against the Town of Stoughton, the Stoughton Public Schools Superintendent, and the Stoughton High School Principal. Those claims were brought by a former student who alleged that she was subjected to illegal sexual harassment by a teacher who groomed and abused her during her junior and senior years. The plaintiff asserted that, by allowing this to occur, the school district and its employees violated their statutory duties to protect her from harm, including duties pursuant to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Of particular importance is the court’s order dismissing the Title IX claim against the Town (based on the acts of the school employees). To succeed on a Title IX claim, the plaintiff had to show that: (1) she was a student subject to harassment based on sex that was sufficiently severe and pervasive to create an abusive educational environment; and (2) an official who at a minimum had authority to address the alleged discrimination and to institute corrective measures on the student’s behalf had actual knowledge of the discrimination and failed to adequately respond or was deliberately indifferent to it.  The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the Principal had actual knowledge of the abuse when another student reported to her that the teacher was providing the plaintiff with special treatment that she was spending excessive time with the teacher, and that on one occasion the plaintiff had left the school in the teacher’s vehicle.  The Principal allegedly initiated an investigation that involved questioning the plaintiff and the teacher, and it did not result in a finding of abuse.

The court noted that a showing of actual knowledge under Title IX requires that a defendant be deliberately indifferent to “known acts” of harassment or discrimination even applying the lenient rules for evaluating complaints the court found that this complaint failed to adequately allege that the Principal had “actual knowledge” of the abuse. The court ruled that allegations about the report to the Principal regarding special treatment, that the plaintiff was spending excessive time with the teacher, and that she was seen getting into the teacher’s vehicle did not amount to known acts of harassment or discrimination sufficient to establish the actual knowledge required by Title IX.  Consequently, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s Title IX claim against the Town. (It dismissed Title IX claims against the individuals because Title IX does not authorize such claims).

While this case shows the stringent requirements necessary to establish a school district’s culpable knowledge under Title IX, school districts should keep in mind that even in this case the facts were apparently enough to trigger an investigation by the school (albeit one that may have been superficial). Failure to so in light of a report indicating that harassment may be occurring could itself trigger liability. Moreover, the court did allow a claim to proceed against the Principal under the federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §1983 because the allegations showed that she had constructive knowledge of a grave risk of harm but failed to take “sufficient, easily available measures to address the risk”.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this update, or any other questions regarding school law generally, please contact us.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Civil Service Commission Addresses Truthfulness Standard in Bypasses

On April 12, 2018, the Civil Service Commission (“Commission”) released a decision, Dabene v. Boston Police Department, in which it opined on the requisite level of untruthfulness to substantiate bypass of a candidate for a police officer position.  It is well-established in decisions under the Civil Service Law, G.L. c. 71, that honesty is a necessary trait for individuals who are, or are seeking to become, a police officer.  In this case, the municipal employer bypassed a candidate for original appointment to the position of police officer based on concern that he previously provided untruthful information in his application.  The  bypass was appealed to the Commission.

In a 2015 job application with the Massachusetts State Police, there was a question posed to applicants whether they were proficient in any languages besides English; the candidate did not answer as being proficient in any such languages.  In a 2016 job application with the municipal employer, there was a question posed to applicants whether they had a basic knowledge of any languages besides English; the candidate indicated that he had a basic knowledge of both the Spanish and Italian languages after studying them in high school and college.  He then completed an application for a police officer position with the employer in 2017, where he did not answer that he had a basic knowledge of any languages other than English.  When the employer inquired why he had listed himself as having a basic knowledge of two languages in his 2016 application but not in his 2017 application, the candidate wrote that “[although I had taken classes in the past, it is clear that I have lost much of my proficiency in these languages…I did not list these languages, as I am now aware that I am not as proficient as I once was.”

In reviewing the bypass, the Commission noted that labeling candidates as untruthful “can be an inherently subjective determination that should be made only after a thorough, serious and uniform review that is mindful of the career-ending consequences that such a conclusion has on candidates seeking a career in public safety.” Here, while the candidate had received satisfactory grades in his Spanish and Italian courses, the employer relied on the fact he had listed himself as “proficient” in those languages on his State Police application but did not list himself as having a “basic knowledge” in his latest application with it.  The Commission determined this question to be highly subjective because the application provided no guidance as to what constituted “basic knowledge” and left its meaning up to interpretation.  Thus, the Commission found that the employer had not proven that the candidate was untruthful in his application and invalidated the bypass.

This case serves as important guidance for public employers in assessing and bypassing job candidates. Employers should ensure that application questions are clear and objective, and offer direction when necessary.  Additionally, when reviewing inconsistencies between application responses and background investigations, employers should be careful to determine whether a candidate may have had a genuine misunderstanding or was untruthful.  This is especially important because past decisions have generally deferred to the employer’s judgment in requiring that candidates for original appointment or promotion as police officers be found scrupulously honest.  This decision shows that the Commission will scrutinize those determinations in a bypass case.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this update, or any other questions regarding labor and employment law generally, please contact any of our attorneys.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

SJC Upholds Massachusetts Cap on Charter Schools

On April 24, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court held in Doe No. 1 v. Secretary of Education (SJC-12275) that students who attend public schools in Massachusetts are not constitutionally entitled to attend charter schools.  Five students filed a complaint in Superior Court challenging G.L. c. 71, § 89(i), which caps the number of all charter schools in the state (with the exception of “Horace Mann II” schools) and also caps the funding that commonwealth charter schools receive.  The plaintiffs alleged that the statutory caps violate both the education clause and the equal protection clause of the Massachusetts Constitution.  The Superior Court dismissed the complaint and the students appealed.

Under the statute, there is a cap of 120 total charter schools allowed in the Commonwealth. No more than 72 of those schools may be “commonwealth charter schools,” which operate independently of the school district where they are located but still receive funding from that district.  In addition, the statute provides that the funding from the sending district to commonwealth charters may not exceed 9% of the district’s net school spending; unless the sending district is in the lowest 10% of performing districts statewide, in which case the funding limits are raised to 18%.  (The other type of charter school, a Horace Mann charter, must be approved by the school district and the bargaining unit in which it is located, and receives funding as determined by the district.)

On appeal, the court first decided that the plaintiffs had sufficiently asserted a justiciable controversy and their right to bring their claims. It then addressed the merits of those claims.

The plaintiffs attend schools that are subject to the 18% cap and have been unable to obtain spaces in charter schools through a lottery process. They alleged that the education they are receiving is constitutionally inadequate under the education clause, which imposes a duty on the Commonwealth to educate all children.  The plaintiffs claimed that this deprivation is caused by the charter school cap, which prevents them from attending a better-performing school and thereby receiving a constitutionally adequate education.  The court disagreed, ruling that while the plaintiffs may be receiving an inadequate education at the moment, they would need to demonstrate that the Commonwealth had failed to fulfill its duty to educate all of its children and that the Commonwealth’s public education plan does not offer reasonable assurance of an opportunity for an adequate education.

Alternatively, the plaintiffs alleged that the charter caps violate the equal protection clause of the Massachusetts constitution because they create two classes of children: those guaranteed to receive the opportunity for an adequate education because their districts provide one, and those in failing districts that rely on the charter lottery system for the prospect of an adequate education. The court rejected this claim as well.  It held that because the charter caps did not significantly interfere with any fundamental right to an education or target a suspect class, the court would not evaluate the statute by applying “heightened scrutiny.”  Instead the court decided that the statute could be upheld so long as it was rationally related to the furtherance of a legitimate state interest.  Noting that charter school funding affects the funding available to the district’s traditional public schools, the court concluded that the caps further the interests of students who do not attend charter schools by limiting the funding impact on their schools and serve as an effort to allocate educational funding among the Commonwealth’s students.  The court therefore held that the caps further a legitimate state interest and satisfy the “rational basis” test.

Obviously, this case has importance for school districts in Massachusetts which must annually wrestle with school budgets and enrollment issues. The court noted that charter schools and the caps continue to be a source of public debate in and outside the Legislature.  School districts are well-advised to keep abreast of developments.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this update, or any other questions regarding school law generally, please contact us.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Supreme Judicial Court Defines the Scope of State Middle and Upper Managers’ Rights to Revert or “Bump” Back to Former Tenured Civil Service Position

In a decision released March 27, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the right of a middle or upper level state manager to revert to a previously-held civil service position under G.L. c. 30, § 46D applies only to involuntary terminations, not to voluntary resignations.

The case, Spencer v. Civil Service Commission, SJC-12326, involved the former Commissioner of Correction, who voluntarily resigned from his position in July 2014. Upon his resignation, the commissioner asked that he be allowed to revert to his last tenured civil service position, a position he had not held in over 20 years. The reversion would have significantly enhanced his retirement benefits. After his request was denied by the Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety & Security, the former commissioner filed an appeal with the Civil Service Commission (“Commission”). The Commission dismissed the case, and the former commissioner thereafter sought judicial review. The SJC took the case on its own motion.

G.L. c. 30, § 46D permits an individual who holds a middle or upper level management position with the Commonwealth to revert or “bump” back to the tenured civil service position from which he or she was promoted upon “termination of his [or her] service.” The phrase “termination of his [or her] service” is not defined in the statute and, prior to this decision, its meaning was unsettled.

The SJC concluded that the phrase refers only to involuntary terminations. In reaching its decision, the court noted the legislative history surrounding the 1981 overhaul of the civil service scheme, as well as relevant Commission precedent. Both factors supported a finding that the reversion or “bumping” right available to state managers under G.L. c. 30, § 46D was limited solely to involuntary terminations.

The court rejected the former commissioner’s argument that he was entitled to revert back to his former civil service position under G.L. c. 30, § 46D due to the Department of Correction’s long-standing practice of allowing upper level managers to revert to their prior civil service positions shortly before retirement. The court noted that this practice allowed the managers to significantly enhance their retirement benefits at the expense of the “bumped” lower level employees and that such contrived or “sham” reversions are illegal under the state pension law. The SJC wrote: “G.L. c. 30, § 46D, was not designed to permit a high-level manager to voluntarily resign and revert, particularly when he does so for the purpose of attaining enhanced retirement benefits designed for a hazardous employment position he has not occupied in twenty-five years. Instead, § 46D is designed to provide managers involuntarily terminated the right to revert to continue their public service.”

Lastly, the court reiterated its previous ruling that an employee’s resignation is voluntary absent a showing of fraud, coercion, or duress. It also affirmed the Commission’s consistently held rule that “mere evidence that a resignation was made under threat of discharge or discipline is not enough” to establish coercion or duress.

While the ruling in Spencer is limited to state managers’ rights to reversion under G.L. c. 30, § 46D, it highlights the need for municipal employers to comply with the requirements of the civil service law, G.L. c. 31, when promoting a tenured civil service employee to a non-civil service position.

Section 37 of the civil service statute discusses the circumstances in which an appointing authority may authorize leaves of absence to permanent civil service employees. For example, a leave of absence for a period up to 14 days is at the discretion of the appointing authority, while a leave of absence for a period greater than 14 days must be in writing and only after a written request for such leave by the employee. Any leave of absence greater than three months requires prior approval of the Human Resources Division. Without such approval, the employee runs the risk of not being able to return to his or her prior civil service position at the end of such leave.

Please contact any of our attorneys if you have any questions about how this decision may impact you or if you have any other questions regarding civil service law or other labor and employment matters.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

SJC Overrules Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law Guidance Regarding Circulation of Employee Performance Evaluations to Quorum of Board of Selectmen in Advance of an Open Meeting

On April 5, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court held in Boelter v. Board of Selectmen of Wayland, SJC-12353, that the email circulation of employee performance evaluations among a quorum of a public body in advance of an open meeting violates the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, §§ 18, 20 (the “OML”) unless the evaluations are publicly disclosed at the same time. This decision overrules guidance previously issued by the Attorney General, which provided that the circulation of evaluations to a quorum falls within the law’s exemption for the simple distribution of materials, as long as the body of the email itself expresses no “opinion.”

In the Wayland case, the board of selectmen was preparing for its annual evaluation of the town administrator.  In advance of an open meeting, the board members submitted individual evaluations to the chair, who then compiled the individual evaluations into a composite evaluation.  The chair circulated an e-mail to all members of the board containing the composite evaluation and the individual evaluations as attachments.  The covering email expressed no opinion.

The SJC concluded that the chair’s email to the board members, containing the attached evaluations, constituted a “deliberation” outside of a properly posted meeting in violation of the OML. Under the OML, a “deliberation” is any oral or written communication “between or among a quorum of a public body on any public business within its jurisdiction,” but the law contains an exception for the “distribution of a meeting agenda, scheduling information or distribution of other procedural meeting [sic] or the distribution of reports or documents that may be discussed at a meeting, provided that no opinion of a member is expressed.” G.L. c. 30A, § 18.

Because the attached evaluations contained board members’ opinions about the town administrator, they did not fit within the law’s exception for the distribution of reports and documents. It did not matter that the body of the email itself expressed no opinion. Thus, the court ruled that the evaluations could not lawfully be distributed among a quorum of the board members prior to an open meeting.

The court recognized, however, that efficiency often requires members of public bodies to be able to review evaluations in advance. The court suggested that email distribution of evaluations among a quorum is permissible if the evaluations are publicly disclosed at the same time, such as on the town website. That way, members can review the documents in advance without thwarting the OML’s fundamental goal of transparency in government.

This ruling substantially alters the evaluation process conducted by boards of selectmen, school committees, and other governmental bodies. While it appears that members may still submit individual evaluations to the chair, from which the chair may then prepare a composite evaluation, the chair now cannot circulate the evaluations to a quorum in advance of the open session at which the evaluation is discussed without ensuring that the documents are also made publicly available in advance.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this update, or any other questions regarding labor and employment law or school law generally, please contact us.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Supreme Judicial Court Holds That Sick and Vacation Payments are not “Regular Compensation” Under Chapter 32 When Used to Supplement Workers’ Compensation Payments

In a decision released February 13, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court held that sick or vacation payments, when used to supplement workers’ compensation payments, are not “regular compensation” as defined in the Contributory Retirement Law, G.L. c. 32, § 1.

The decision, Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board & others, SJC-12331, involved an employee for the Town of Swampscott. The employee sustained injuries at work and began receiving workers’ compensation benefits. In addition to those benefits under G.L. c. 152, § 69, the employee received two hours per week of supplemental pay (i.e., sick or vacation pay) in order to maintain his union membership and life insurance. Under G.L. c. 152, § 69, a public employer may pay an employee who is receiving workers’ compensation all of their accrued vacation and sick time “in part until any sick leave allowance which the employee has to his credit has been used.”

The Town filed an application seeking to retire the employee involuntarily for accidental disability; the Retirement Board approved the application; and the employee received workers compensation benefits and supplemental pay through June 7, 2012. The Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (“PERAC”) determined that the employee’s effective retirement date was July 7, 2012, because that was the last day he received “regular compensation” in the form of his supplemental pay. The Division of Administrative Law Appeals reversed PERAC’s decision, finding that the employee’s supplemental pay did not constitute “regular compensation.” Both the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board and a Superior Court judge agreed with DALA’s decision; an appeal followed; and the SJC took the case on its own motion.

The sole issue before the SJC was whether supplemental pay received in conjunction with workers’ compensation constitutes “regular compensation” under G.L. c. 32, § 1. “Regular compensation” is defined in the statute as “compensation received exclusively as wages by an employee for services performed in the course of employment.” The court has interpreted this to mean ordinary, recurrent, or repeated payments, as opposed to irregular payments such as bonuses or overtime pay. The court concluded that supplemental pay received while an employee can no longer provide employment services for the employer is not “regular compensation” for the following reasons:

  • Regular compensation means wages paid to an employee for “services performed” and an injured employee on workers’ compensation, by definition, is unable to perform services;
  • Regular compensation must be “of indefinite duration,” but sick and vacation time is limited in amount;
  • The workers’ compensation statute implies that supplemental pay is intended to be a “substitute for an employee’s regular salary”; and
  • Workers’ compensation itself is not regular compensation.

Please contact any of our attorneys if you have any questions about how this decision may impact you or if you have any other questions regarding labor and employment matters.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Addresses Truancy Standard Under the Child Requiring Assistance Statute

In a decision released February 6, 2018, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court defined the circumstances in which a child “willfully fails to attend school” pursuant to the Commonwealth’s Child Requiring Assistance (“CRA”) statute, G.L. c. 119, § 21.

The decision, Millis Public Schools v. M.P., SJC-12384, held that a child who “acts purposefully, such that his or her behavior arises from reasons portending delinquent behavior” qualifies as a child willfully failing to attend school under the law.

The Legislature enacted the CRA in 1973 with the intention of diverting children from delinquent behavior while providing nonpunitive care. To accomplish this task, the statute authorizes the Juvenile Court to intervene and potentially alter custody arrangements in cases of children deemed as requiring assistance. The CRA defines a child requiring assistance as one between the ages of six (6) and eighteen (18) that either: (i) repeatedly runs away from home; (ii) repeatedly fails to obey the lawful commands of their parent or guardian; (iii) is habitually truant; or (iv) is a sexually exploited child. A “habitually truant” child, as the court addressed in this case, is defined as a “school-aged child, not excused from attendance under the lawful and reasonable regulations of such child’s school, who willfully fails to attend school for more than 8 school days in a quarter.” The court must assess the child’s reasons for not attending school to determine whether the child’s absences are “willful.”

In the present case, Millis Public Schools filed a petition seeking to determine a determination that a fifteen (15) year old student, M.P., was a child requiring assistance. M.P. had been diagnosed with several medical, cognitive, and emotional conditions that severely impeded her ability to leave her home and attend school on a regular basis. For the 2016-2017 academic year, M.P.’s parents enrolled her in the school district so she could receive special education services. M.P. did not attend any classes from the beginning of the year through late October, prompting the district to file a CRA petition in November 2016. While the Juvenile Court noted that M.P.’s medical and emotional conditions hindered her ability to attend school, they were still found to be willful “actions taken by the child not to attend school.” M.P. appealed the Juvenile Court’s determination that she was habitually truant, bringing forth to the Supreme Judicial Court the issue of whether she “willfully failed to attend school.”

Looking to the Legislature’s goals in effectuating the CRA, as well as similar statutes in other jurisdictions, the court opined that a willful failure to attend school requires “more than voluntary or intentional conduct…when [the child] acts purposefully…his or her behavior arises from portending delinquent behavior.” The court emphasized that a willfulness inquiry is a fact-based inquiry and that each child’s rationale for truancy must be examined individually. Applying the court’s definition of “willfully” to M.P., the court held the record did not support a finding that M.P. willfully failed to attend school. M.P.’s failure to attend school did not arise from delinquent behavior; rather, she wanted to attend school but stayed home to address her medical and emotional conditions. Additionally, the court reasoned, no potential custodial modifications would have improved M.P.’s attendance record.

The court made a final point that districts should carefully consider the venue in which they bring attendance cases for children with disabilities. In some cases, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals may be more appropriate. Should you have concerns about how this decision impacts you, we advise you to contact us with your questions.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds Accrued, Unused Sick Time Does Not Qualify As Wages Under The Wage Act

In a decision released January 29, 2018, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that payment for accrued, unused sick time does not count as wages under the Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, §§ 148, 150. The decision, Tze-Kit Mui v. Massachusetts Port Authority, SJC-12296, addressed an employee’s claim that his former employer violated the Wage Act by failing to timely pay him for his accrued but unused sick time upon his retirement.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Port Authority (“Massport”) initiated disciplinary proceedings against its employee, Mui. A week later, he applied for retirement. Shortly thereafter, Massport discharged Mui from employment, an act later overturned by an arbitrator. The arbitrator ruled that Massport could not terminate Mui’s employment because Mui had already retired. In accordance with their sick pay policy, Massport paid Mui a percentage of his accrued, unused sick time. However, due to the length of the grievance and arbitration proceedings, the payment was not made until more than one year after Mui’s effective retirement date.

Mui sued Massport under the Wage Act, which provides that “any employee leaving his employment shall be paid in full on the following regular pay day,” and that “any employee discharged from…employment shall be paid in full on the day of his discharge…the wages or salary earned by him.” G.L. c. 149, § 148. Mui claimed his accrued, unused sick time constituted “wages” within the meaning of the statute. He sought treble damages of approximately $140,000 (representing three times the amount Massport had paid him under their policy).

The court was therefore tasked with determining whether the Wage Act encompasses sick pay. Looking to the language of the statute, the court noted the absence of any reference to sick pay and declined to expand the meaning of “wages” to encompass sick pay where it is not expressly mentioned. The court has previously declined to expand the meaning of “wages” to include other types of compensation not expressly named in the statute, such as discretionary bonuses, tax-exempt deferred compensation, and severance pay. The court also distinguished sick time from vacation time, which is expressly mentioned in the statute as a form of “wages,” because sick time may be used only when an employee or family member is sick. Vacation time, on the other hand, may be used for any reason.

Finally, the court considered whether sick time paid out in the form of a “contingent bonus” counts as “wages.” Here, Massport’s sick time policy provided for departing employees to be paid a percentage of their accrued, unused sick time as long as certain conditions were met – employees had to have worked at Massport for at least two years and they could not have been terminated for just cause. The court noted that the only contingent compensation expressly mentioned in the Wage Act is commissions. Previously, the court has declined to expand the term “wages” to include other types of contingent compensation. The court concluded that sick time paid in the form of a “contingent bonus” does not constitute “wages” under the Act.

This case serves as a very important decision for public employers and employees regarding claims under the Wage Act for accrued, unused sick time. Should you have concerns about how this decision impacts you, we strongly advise that you contact us with your questions.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Supreme Judicial Court Holds School District/City is Exempt from Tort Liability for Failing to Act to Prevent Bullying

In a decision released February 27, 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, (“Act”), G.L. c. 258, § 10 (j), shielded the City of Lynn and Lynn Public Schools from liability for negligently failing to prevent bullying. The decision, Cormier v. City of Lynn, SJC-12323, involved a Lynn elementary school student who suffered permanent paralysis as a result of being pushed down a stairwell by a classmate.