Unfortunately, employees seeking unpaid wages based on a misclassification as an independent contractor, occasionally have to deal with unruly employers who bring counterclaims against their employees. Fortunately there are legal protections employees can utilize to discourage this type of employer’s behavior.
In a recent case an employer brought counterclaims alleging interference with contractual relations and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing after their employee filed suit asserting the employer misclassified the employee as an independent contractor and was owed wages.
Massachusetts SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation) law protects a party exercising a right to petition under the state’s constitution in a civil case by allowing them to bring a special motion to dismiss counterclaims. “Here, the employee filed a lawsuit against their employer alleging violations of fair wage statutes, a clear exercise of petitioning activity. The motive behind the petitioning activity is irrelevant at this stage, instead, the focus is solely on conduct complained of, and, if the only conduct complained of is petitioning activity, then there can be no other substantial basis for the claim.”
“The employee has met his threshold burden of demonstrating that the sole basis for the interference with contractual relations and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing counterclaims is his petitioning activity, specifically, this lawsuit. The pleadings specifically state that these counterclaims have been brought as a result of employee’s ‘filing a false wage claim’ and ‘bringing claims he in fact assured the defendant and others at the company that he was not entitled to.’ It is beyond doubt that the special movant has satisfied its burden when the pleadings state that the claims are based upon the petitioning activity.”
“Here, there can be no doubt that the employee has satisfied his burden because the employer’s counterclaims state that they arose out of the very petitioning activity contemplated by G.L.c. 231, section 59H. … Therefore, with respect to the intentional interference with contractual relations and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing counterclaims, the employer must demonstrate that the petitioning activity has no reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law, and that it sustained actual damages, or those counterclaims must be dismissed.”
Massachusetts SLAPP laws are specifically designed to prevent retaliatory behavior. An employer may not bring unsupported counterclaims against an employee based solely on the mere filing of a lawsuit by an employee against an employer. Employees should not be in fear to bring a legitimate wage claim against their employer.