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B&B Attorney Presents Discrimination Law Update at 2012 MCLE Annual Employment Conference

By December 28, 2012No Comments

Bennett & Belfort, P.C. Partner, David E Belfort, along with his colleague Attorney Peter Moser (From the firm Hirsh, Roberts Weinstein LLP), gave the opening lecture at this year’s 15th Annual Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Employment Law Conference.  Their presentation, entitled “Discrimination Law Update,” focused on 2012 developments in Massachusetts federal and state discrimination law.  The lecture first addressed recent high court cases involving the First Amendment and “Ministerial Exception,” in which the federal and state courts found that discrimination protections do not apply to ‘ministers’ at houses of worship, including religious education teachers. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 132 S.Ct.694 (Jan. 2012); Temple Emanuel of Newton v. MCAD, 463 Mass. 472 (Sept. 2012) .   The presentation then turned to various areas in which protected class categories have expanded throughout the year, including the new Transgender Equal Rights legislation, which adds gender identity to M.G.L. 151B (Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law) as a protected class for purposes of employment and  housing discrimination.  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s pending review of whether associational disability claims are recognized in Massachusetts was also discussed at length. Flagg v. AliMed, Inc. SJC Docket No. 11182.  Associational discrimination is a form of discrimination that occurs when the suspect class member is one person, but another person is detrimentally treated as a consequence.  While discrimination based on association has been applied in many contexts (race, age, etc.) it is specifically defined in the disability context by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to mean employment-related prejudice against employees, on the basis of their associations with people who have disabilities or disabling illnesses.  Finally, a series of large recent awards were surveyed, including Switzer v. Office Max, Inc., MCAD Docket No. 07-BEM-00737, a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination award of roughly $1,5M in a gender bias case and Kelley v. Commonwealth, Docket No. 07-01910E a December, 2012 Suffolk County jury verdict exceeding $900,000 in a retaliation case involving transfer of position.