Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Independent Contractor Misclassification Case To Proceed

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has reversed the dismissal of an independent contractor misclassification/unpaid overtime case brought against the Montachusetts Regional Transit Authority (MART), noting the different standard used determining whether an individual is an employee for purposes of discrimination claims versus unpaid wage claims in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Appeals Court

SUMMARY: (court decision – opens in PDF)

“In July 2021, the plaintiff, Paul Jones, brought this action in the Superior Court alleging violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L.c. 149, and the minimum wage law, G.L.c. 151 (wage statutes), by Montachusetts Regional Transit Authority, as his employer, and the individual defendants, as the employer’s ‘agents’ (collectively, MART). The plaintiff alleged that MART misclassified him as an independent contractor when he was actually MART’s employee, and by doing so, deprived him of certain financial benefits. MART moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint arguing, inter alia, that principles of issue preclusion foreclosed the plaintiff’s claim that he was MART’s employee. Because we conclude that the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims was premature, we vacate the judgment of dismissal and remand the case to the Superior Court for further proceedings. … “In May 2019, the plaintiff filed an action against MART in Federal court alleging, inter alia, employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and G.L.c. 151B, §4 (Federal action).

… In July 2021, MART moved for summary judgment in the Federal action on the employment discrimination claims on the basis that the plaintiff was not its employee. A Federal judge agreed and granted MART’s motion. …

“MART’s issue preclusion argument relies on the Federal judge’s determination that for the purposes of both Title VII and G.L.c. 151B, MART established on summary judgment that it was not the plaintiff’s employer. While we acknowledge that the plaintiff’s employment status with respect to MART was, as MART argues, an element of both the plaintiff’s Federal court claim and his claims in the Superior Court action at issue in this appeal, … we conclude that issue preclusion was not a proper basis on which to dismiss the plaintiff’s Superior Court claims. …

“… Because the plaintiff’s burden was higher in the Federal action, and the burden shifted to MART in the later Superior Court action, application of issue preclusion was erroneous.”

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