Client BulletinsClient Bulletin #611
Massachusetts employees can sue under Sunday blue laws and win triple damages
April 10, 2017
A Massachusetts Superior Court in Bassett v. Triton Technologies, Inc., has recently provided a reminder and warning to Massachusetts employers that they must abide by the dictates of Sunday blue laws or risk private lawsuits by employees, with the potential for automatic recovery of treble damages.
The Massachusetts Wage Act requires certain employers who sell goods at retail to pay time and a half to non-exempt employees who work on Sunday. The plaintiffs in Bassett alleged, among other things, that Triton and its individual officers unlawfully failed to pay the Sunday premium. The statute, Mass. General Laws, Chapter 136, Section 6(50), provides as follows:
Any store or shop which qualifies for exemption under [the blue laws] and which employs more than a total of seven persons, including the proprietor, on Sunday or any day throughout the week, shall compensate all employees engaged in the work performed on Sunday pursuant to the provisions of this clause . . ., excepting those bona fide executive or administrative or professional persons earning more than two hundred dollars a week, at a rate not less than one and one-half times the employee's regular rate. No employee engaged in work subject to the provisions of this clause shall be required to perform such work, and refusal to work for any retail establishment on Sunday shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, reduction in hours, or any other penalty. The provisions of this paragraph shall be enforced by the office of the attorney general. [Employers who violate the law are also subject to fines that apply when a business operates in violation of the Sunday blue laws.]
Triton moved to dismiss the claim. According to Triton, the legislature did not create a private right of action to enforce the Sunday pay statute. Therefore, Triton contended, the plaintiffs lacked standing, and the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claim.
The court denied Triton’s motion to dismiss, finding that failure to pay time and a half when required by statute is a violation of the Wage Act and that the legislature expressly authorized employees to sue their employers for failure to pay earned wages under the Wage Act. The court further found that the plaintiffs had alleged facts plausibly suggesting personal liability for the individual company officers named as defendants, who are deemed to be the “employers” for purposes of Wage Act violations.
Although the Bassett decision is not binding on other Superior Court judges – and the Massachusetts Appeals Court or Supreme Judicial Court may ultimately decide differently – the decision will certainly be persuasive in other cases unless and until an appellate court decides the issue. Massachusetts employers are therefore advised to make sure they are in compliance with Sunday blue laws, particularly time-and-a-half wages for Sunday work.
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