The Massachusetts Wage Act affords aggrieved employees the ability to sue their employers and recover for an employer’s failure to pay wages to which the employee was entitled. The Supreme Judicial Court recently address the issue of whether an employee may also seek reinstatement under the Wage Act.
The employee alleged this his employer intentionally misclassified his employment status and as a result failed to pay him his proper wages in violation of the Wage Act, G.L.c. 149, §148. The employee was fired shortly thereafter. An additional claim was made asserting that his termination was in retaliation for filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s office in violation of §148A. The employee then filed a motion for reinstatement to his prior position as if he had not been terminated from employment. A jury awarded the employee damages for unpaid wages due to the misclassification and lost wages due to retaliation but a Superior Court Judge denied the employee’s reinstatement claims.
The employee argued that the ‘injunctive relief’ language in G.L.c. 149, §150 of the Wage Act, allowed for reinstatement. The Court disagreed with the argument and found that “reinstatement to employment is not an available remedy for violations of the Wage Act.” “Reinstatement is only a remedy expressly permitted by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in the context of an administrative proceeding.”
“When the employee elected to commence an action in the Superior Court, rather than before the commission, to seek redress for the harm he purportedly sustained as a consequence of the AHA’s violations of the Wage Act, he also effectively elected the remedies that would be afforded under that statutory scheme.”
This SJC ruling creates an important decision for employees seeking redress under the Massachusetts Wage Act. The venue in which an employee decides to seek a remedy will be determinative on what type of damages can be awarded. If an employee ultimately wishes to be reinstated, the employer must bring the claim through the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, as opposed to filing the claim in the Superior Court.