On Friday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state's employment discrimination statute, Chapter 151B, authorizes minority police officers to pursue a discrimination lawsuit against the state agency that develops their promotional examination. The ruling overturned a Superior Court decision that dismissed the officers' lawsuit on the grounds that the state's Human Resources Division ("HRD") is not the officer's employer under Chapter 151B. [Full disclosure: Joseph Sulman was co-counsel for the plaintiffs at the Superior Court.] In overturning the lower court's ruling, the SJC agreed that HRD did not qualify as an employer under the statute, but found that the officers could pursue a claim against the agency for interfering with their rights under the statute.
As the decision explains, Chapter 151B not only provides a claim against an employer for discrimination, but also provides a claim against any "person" for interference with rights protected by the statute. Because the interference provision applies to any "person," HRD does not need to be the officers' employer to be sued under that provision.
The case involves a class action complaint alleging that the civil service examination for promotion to sergeant has a discriminatory impact against black and Hispanic police officers. Although the law authorizes municipalities to develop their own promotional examinations, HRD has developed the sergeant examination used by virtually every municipality with a civil service police department.