Recently in Parker v. EnerNOC, Inc., the Supreme Judicial Court held that, per the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, §§ 148A, 150, an employee, who was deprived of a commission as a result of a retaliatory termination by her employer prior to the commission coming due, was entitled to treble the amount of the unpaid commission.
The Massachusetts Wage Act allows an employee to recover "wages" that have been "unreasonably retained" by an employer. A salary is within the scope of the statute. What else is considered "wages"? It's not clear because the term "wages" is not defined. The statute simply provides that the term "wages" includes holiday and vacation time but such enumeration is not exhaustive. Courts have interpreted the term "wages" to mean wages that have been "earned," as opposed to wages that are contingent on some other fact or are discretionary. For example, accumulated sick days are not "wages" because they are contingent on a specific fact, i.e. the employee being sick. The same is true for bonuses since they are paid at the discretion of the employer. Commissions, however, are generally considered "wages" if they are not discretionary and are the result of the employee's work, provided that the amount of the commission is definitely determined and due and payable.
In a recently decided case, the Supreme Judicial Court held that two employees who asserted claims under the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, §§148 and 150, were entitled to recover attorneys' fees from their former employer where the parties had entered into a private settlement agreement. In Ferman v. Sturgis Cleaners, Inc., the SJC held that the employees were entitled to an award of attorneys' fees where their lawsuit acted as a "necessary and important factor" in causing their former employer to "provide a material portion" of the relief they requested in the form of a private settlement.
In the recent case of Fitzgerald v. The Chateau Restaurant Corp., No. 14-01990-J, 2016 WL 344155 (Mass. Sup. Ct. Jan. 4, 2016), a former manager at The Chateau Burlington and The Chateau Andover restaurants filed a putative class action against parent company The Chateau Restaurant Corporation, Inc. and several related corporations which owned individual Chateau restaurants in the Massachusetts Italian restaurant chain. In his complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that he was routinely denied the opportunity to take his off-site meal break--because of a company policy that if only one manager was on site, that manager could not leave the restaurant--yet he still had his pay automatically deducted to account for such a thirty-minute meal break. Id. at *1-2. Fitzgerald filed a putative class action on behalf of himself and other similarly situated hourly managers at any Chateau restaurant location during the six-year period preceding the commencement of the action, alleging violation of the Massachusetts Wage Act, violation of the Massachusetts Overtime Act, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Id.
A recent Appeals Court decision should serve as a warning to employers about the importance of clarity in communications with employees concerning policies on overtime pay and timekeeping.
The Supreme Judicial Court has recently affirmed in Monell v. Boston Pads, LLC, 471 Mass. 566 (2015) that real estate brokerage companies can continue to classify real estate salespersons as independent contractors and are not subject to the Massachusetts independent contractor statute.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that an arbitrator exceeds her authority only when "she awards relief beyond the scope of the arbitration agreement, beyond that to which the parties bound themselves, or enters an award prohibited by law." Conway v. CLC Bio, LLC, 2015 WL 9883907, Mass. App. Ct. No. 14-P-350 (June 12, 2015), at 5-6. The Court also reiterated that the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") requires enforcement of an agreement to arbitrate statutory claims "absent a question of arbitrability, countervailing Congressional command, or cognizable challenge to the validity of the agreement to arbitrate." Id., at 10.