Legal Updates

SHPC Success Story: SJC Allows Dismissal Of Former Employee’s Claims To Stand

William E. Hannum III and Matthew D. Batastini recently persuaded the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) to deny further appellate review of the dismissal of a former employee’s claims against a Massachusetts independent day and boarding school. The former employee had petitioned the SJC to review whether her alleged reports of bullying, which she claimed were made pursuant to the Massachusetts Mandatory Reporting Law, M.G.L. ch. 119, § 51A, were “protected conduct” under that statute’s retaliation provision.The former employee claimed that she reported incidents of student-on-student bullying to the administration of the school. When her employment was later terminated, she argued that the school was retaliating against her for making those reports. The trial court granted the school’s motion for summary judgment based, in part, on its finding that the former employee’s alleged reports were not “protected conduct” under § 51A. The court reasoned that her reports were not reports of “abuse” because they did not involve alleged misconduct by a “caretaker,” as required by the statute.

The former employee claimed that she reported incidents of student-on-student bullying to the administration of the school. When her employment was later terminated, she argued that the school was retaliating against her for making those reports. The trial court granted the school’s motion for summary judgment based, in part, on its finding that the former employee’s alleged reports were not “protected conduct” under § 51A. The court reasoned that her reports were not reports of “abuse” because they did not involve alleged misconduct by a “caretaker,” as required by the statute.The former employee appealed the trial court’s ruling to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which affirmed the ruling. The former employee then sought further review by the SJC. She argued that bullying is an issue of such great public importance that reports of student-on-student bullying should count as “abuse” for purposes of § 51A. In opposition to her petition, the school argued that the statute was clear, and that interpreting the statute to include student bullying as “abuse” would expand the scope of the statute’s mandatory reporting requirements far beyond that intended by the legislature. The SJC declined to exercise review.

The former employee appealed the trial court’s ruling to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which affirmed the ruling. The former employee then sought further review by the SJC. She argued that bullying is an issue of such great public importance that reports of student-on-student bullying should count as “abuse” for purposes of § 51A. In opposition to her petition, the school argued that the statute was clear, and that interpreting the statute to include student bullying as “abuse” would expand the scope of the statute’s mandatory reporting requirements far beyond that intended by the legislature. The SJC declined to exercise review.