On June 5, 2020, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a Superior Court decision that would have precluded a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case from moving to dismiss her harasser’s specious counterclaims. The case is Rosario v. Caring Bees Healthcare, Inc. et al, Appeals Court No. 19-P-1223. After Attorneys Eric LeBlanc and Michaela May filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a client’s former employer in the Suffolk Superior Court, the employer filed counterclaims seeking to derail Plaintiff’s suit; in Defendant’s twisted argument, Plaintiff had defamed him and caused him emotional distress by telling third parties about the harassment.
Under the Massachusetts “anti-SLAPP” (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) law, G.L. c. 231, § 59H, it is illegal for a person to engage in litigation with the primary objective of thwarting another’s rights to speak freely and seek legal recourse for wrongdoing. In cases such as Rosario, this means that accused abusers may not use the legal system as a cudgel to intimidate victims and ward off attempts to hold them accountable. Attorneys LeBlanc and May filed a motion under the anti-SLAPP law, seeking dismissal of the counterclaims filed by their client’s harasser, who was an owner of the company the plaintiff worked for. Defendant’s counterclaims, Attorneys LeBlanc and May argued, were not based in fact but were designed to prevent their client from continuing to engage in valid petitioning activity: seeking solace and justice after she was assaulted at work.
The Superior Court denied Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss Defendant’s counterclaims, opining that Defendant had filed them primarily to obtain relief for harm allegedly done to him, rather than to thwart his accuser’s right to seek relief. Attorneys LeBlanc and May filed an appeal brief with the Massachusetts Appeals Court, along with an amicus curiae (“friends of the court”) brief by the Massachusetts Employment lawyers Association, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Lawyers for Civil Rights, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Union of Minority Neighborhoods, and Fair Employment Project.
On May 7, 2020, the Appeals Court heard oral arguments from Attorney LeBlanc on behalf of the Plaintiff-Appellant and from Defendant-Appellees’ counsel in opposition to the appeal. Fortunately, the Appeals Court disagreed with the lower court’s conclusion; it determined that the Superior Court judge had not properly considered the nature and context of Defendant’s counterclaims before deciding that Defendant’s attempt to portray himself as the victim did not constitute a violation of the anti-SLAPP law.
The Superior Court must now revisit the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss her harasser’s counterclaims. Attorneys LeBlanc and May are hopeful that, upon reconsideration, the judge will reject this defendant’s use of the legal system to intimidate his victim. Such a decision would not only be just for the plaintiff; it would fortify the confidence of all victims of sexual harassment in Massachusetts that they will be treated fairly when they seek justice from the Commonwealth’s courts.