Friday, June 24, 2011

How will the Supreme Court's Wal-Mart decision affect future class-actions?

Lawyers and legal commentators are buzzing this week about the Supreme Court's decision in Wal-Mart v. Duke, which held that a nationwide class-action against Wal-Mart alleging gender discrimination could not go forward because it did not meet the requirements for class treatment.  Specifically, the Court ruled that the plaintiffs' claims did not raise common issues of fact and law sufficient to meet the requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  The result has many people asking if some companies are simply too big to be sued on a class-wide basis.  Others have pointed out the Court's apparent inconsistency in emphasizing Wal-Mart's corporate policy prohibiting gender discrimination while finding that the individual store managers had too much discretion for the plaintiffs to show any common practice or policy.  The actual effect of the decision on nationwide class-actions remains to be scene as lower courts interpret and apply the decision.  This was the second significant decision by the Supreme Court this year on class actions, the first being the AT&T case where the Court decided that state law could not be used to prohibit a company from restricting a customer's right to pursue a class-action.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Court ruling expands liability for workplace retaliation

The Massachusetts' anti-discrimination statute, M.G.L. c. 151B, clearly prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for exercising his or her rights under the statute or interfering with the exercise of such rights.   The Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that this protection applies equally to former employees.  In Psy‐Ed Corp., et al. v. Klein & Schive v. Hirsch, et al., a former shareholder of a company signed an affidavit supportive of a person who had filed a charge of discrimination against the company.  Upon learning this, the company filed a lawsuit against the former shareholder which the Superior Court found to be unmerited, an abuse of process, and retaliatory.  The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the Superior Court's ruling and held that Chapter 151B protects both current and former employees from retaliation even when the retaliatory action occurs after the employment relationship has ended. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Discrimination for refusing to rent to families with children

It is illegal in Massachusetts to refuse to rent to someone because he or she has children or because you don't want to eliminate lead hazards for children.  This week, the Office of the Attorney General settled discrimination clams against a Lynn real estate company and other entities alleging that they violated state anti-discrimination and lead paint laws by refusing to show or rent an apartment to a pregnant woman.  The Attorney General also settled similar claims against a Chelmsford real estate company alleging that it discriminated against a prospective tenant with children.  Both complaints originated with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which issued findings of probable cause in each case and then referred the matters to the Attorney General. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Boston Globe publishes editorial supporting proposed ban on transgender discrimination

This is not a legal development, but it is worth noting that the Boston Globe today published an editorial today in support of proposed legislation on Beacon Hill that would ban discrimination against transgendered persons, calling such a proposal a "matter of simple justice."  As the Globe notes, the bill has been proposed in years past, but the Judiciary Committee never  brought he bill to a vote until today, when it is scheduled for a hearing.

I have noted previously that the media and lawmakers are slowly but steadily recognizing the enormous challenges and prejudices that transgendered persons face every day.  See my previous posts here and here, and developments in Nevada, Connecticut, and a report by the Center for American Progress

Beacon Hill considering expanding equal pay law

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering a change to its equal pay law to clarify when the law's requirement of equal pay for "comparable" work is triggered.  The law currently prohibits employers from paying different wages to women and women for "work of like or comparable character," but does not define the meaning of "comparable."  The proposed amendment to Section 105A of Chapter 149 of the Massachusetts General Laws would make work "comparable" according to an evaluation of the "skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions between employees of the opposite sex."