Mass. Court of Appeals reverses summary judgment in employee's discrimination claim against Boston

By Carrie Salls | Nov 8, 2018

Justice Vickie Henry

BOSTON (Legal Newsline) – The Massachusetts Court of Appeals reversed a Superior Court order entered in favor of the city of Boston in an employment discrimination case but upheld the lower court’s decision to rule for the city on plaintiff Priscilla Flint’s constructive discharge and breach of contract allegations.

"The principal question presented is whether the plaintiff's administrative complaint was timely. After a careful review of the record, we conclude that the question of timeliness cannot be decided as a matter of law. Accordingly, we reverse the summary judgment on the pay discrimination claim," Justice Vickie Henry wrote in the Oct. 24 ruling. "However, we agree that summary judgment was properly granted to the defendants on Flint's constructive discharge claim and on her breach of contract claim."

The appeals court said Flint, a black woman, was hired by the city of Boston as a payroll accountant in 1997 and promoted multiple times.

In 2008, Flint’s boss offered her additional managerial responsibilities and indicated that she would receive “an additional $5,000 to $10,000 per year,” through a pay raise that “would happen soon,” the ruling states.

As a result, the appeals court ruling said Flint agreed to take the promotion.

“On two or three occasions in the winter and spring of 2009, (Vivian) Leo assured Flint that she was ‘working on’ the raise and that Flint would get it,” Henry wrote. “When asked about the delay, Leo explained that ‘they were doing something with the budget.’”

After that assurance that the raise was coming, the court said Flint allegedly asked about the status of the raise on subsequent occasions and was told that the extra pay would need to wait until after elections in case changes were made in the office in which Flint worked. Flint also took her concerns to the human resources department, which reiterated the supervisor’s assurance that the raise would come and that Flint should “hang in there,” according to the ruling.

However, Flint claims that she still had not received the raise when she took medical leave to have a knee replacement in 2010 and was told when she returned to work that there was no money in the budget for raises for Flint or any other employees.

Henry said in the opinion that the breach-of-contract claim was dismissed because Flint had not followed the proper steps, including filing a grievance with her union, that were outlined in the city’s collective bargaining agreement.

The appeals court said the ruling on behalf of the city on the discharge claim was correct because, contrary to Flint’s argument, an announcement that she would not receive the raise “cannot be viewed conceptually as a ‘demotion’ that compelled her to retire.”

Meanwhile, Henry said the pay discrimination claim could proceed because others were receiving raises when there were allegedly budgetary issues standing in the way of Flint’s pay increase and because she received several promises from the city that led her to believe the raise would be coming.

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