Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtHENNESSEY; ABRAMS
Citation375 Mass. 160,375 N.E.2d 1192
Decision Date04 May 1978
Parties, 20 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1804, 18 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 8692 MASSACHUSETTS ELECTRIC COMPANY v. MASSACHUSETTS COMMISSION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION.

Page 1192

375 N.E.2d 1192
375 Mass. 160, 20 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1804,
18 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 8692
MASSACHUSETTS ELECTRIC COMPANY
v.
MASSACHUSETTS COMMISSION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,Suffolk.
Argued Jan. 4, 1978.
Decided May 4, 1978.

Page 1195

[375 Mass. 161] Philip J. Moss and Harold N. Mack, Boston, for plaintiff.

Jeffrey J. Binder, Boston, for defendant.

Gene D. Dahmen, Boston, for the Women's Rights Project of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union Foundation, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

[375 Mass. 160] HENNESSEY, C. J., and QUIRICO, BRAUCHER, KAPLAN and ABRAMS, JJ.

[375 Mass. 161] ABRAMS, Justice.

In this appeal the plaintiff Massachusetts Electric Company (company) seeks review of a decision of the defendant Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (commission) ordering the company to cease and desist from maintaining its policy of denying disability benefits for pregnancy-related temporary disabilities and to pay compensation to all those who would have received disability benefits if their disabilities had been other than pregnancy-related. The central issue presented by this case is whether the exclusion of temporary disabilities related to pregnancy from a comprehensive disability plan constitutes unlawful sex discrimination in employment in violation of G.L. c. 151B. We hold that such an exclusion is unlawful sex discrimination and affirm that portion of the commission's decision which requires pregnancy-related disabilities to be compensated under a comprehensive disability plan.

The collective bargaining agreements between the company and the unions representing its employees provided that temporary disability benefits would be paid to employees for both occupational and nonoccupational disabilities. 1 [375 Mass. 162] The only situations in which benefits are not provided under the collective bargaining agreement are in cases involving excessive use of alcohol or narcotics or refusal to observe company safety rules.

During the summer of 1972 the company adopted a "Leave of Absence for Pregnancy" policy. This policy provided that disability benefits would not be paid during a pregnancy-related leave of absence. On March 28, 1974, the company amended its

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"Leave of Absence for Pregnancy" policy. The section concerning disability benefits remained unchanged.

On May 8, 1973, Beverly Harris (Harris), an employee of the company and a member of Local 337 of the Brotherhood of Utility Workers, suffered a miscarriage when she was approximately four and one-half months pregnant. In connection with the miscarriage she was hospitalized for five days. Harris returned to work after an absence of five weeks; her doctor stated that during that time she was unable to resume active employment. Prior to her return to work, Harris was notified by her supervisor that because her absence was pregnancy-related she was ineligible for temporary disability benefits. Accordingly, she never received any benefits to compensate her for the period during which [375 Mass. 163] she was absent from work in connection with the miscarriage.

Glenna Lehtonen (Lehtonen), a company employee and a member of Local 337, suffered a miscarriage on December 18, 1973, when she was approximately two months pregnant. She was absent from work for three days, her physician having advised her to remain home during this period. Prior to her return, Lehtonen was informed by her supervisor that she was ineligible for disability benefits since her absence was pregnancy-related. She has never received disability benefits for the period during which she was absent from work due to a miscarriage.

Rita Moore (Moore), a company employee and a member of Local 12007 of the United Steel Workers of America, suffered complications concerning her pregnancy at the end of January, 1974, when she was approximately seven weeks pregnant. Her physician advised her to go home and remain at home until February 12, 1974. On February 12, Moore's doctor advised her that she could return to work on a part time basis. However, she was advised by her supervisor that there was no part time work available for her. On March 12, 1974, Moore returned to work full time. Before her return she had been informed by her supervisor that she was not eligible for temporary disability benefits because her absence was pregnancy-related. Moore has never received disability benefits for the period during which she was absent from work due to the complications involved with her pregnancy.

Local 337 of the Brotherhood of Utility Workers (union) is the collective bargaining agent for the employees at the company's Gardner, Massachusetts, facility. The union represents approximately 170 of the company's employees, including Harris and Lehtonen. On or about May 13, 1973, Harris notified David H. Thompson, the president of Local 337, that she had been informed by her supervisor that she was ineligible for temporary disability benefits for the period during which she was absent from work in connection with a miscarriage. She requested him to represent her [375 Mass. 164] in an attempt to convince the company to allow her to use her temporary disability benefits. Thompson met twice with managerial employees of the company. On both occasions he was told that the company would not allow Harris to apply her disability benefits to the period during which she was absent since her disability was pregnancy-related.

Harris, Lehtonen, Moore, and Local 337 filed complaints with the commission charging the company with discrimination based on sex in violation of G.L. c. 151B, § 4. Harris and Local 337 sought to bring their complaints as class actions. After investigation, the investigating commissioner found probable cause to credit the allegations of each of the complaints. See G.L. c. 151B, § 5. Conciliation efforts were unsuccessful, and the cases were consolidated for public hearing.

A public hearing was held on March 13, 1975, before a single commissioner. The company moved to dismiss the complaint filed by Local 337 on the ground that the union was not a proper party entitled to file a complaint pursuant to G.L. c. 151B and the commission's "Rules for Adjudicatory Proceedings." This motion was denied. The company also moved that the class

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action portions of the complaints filed by Harris and Local 337 be dismissed. This motion was also denied, and the commissioner concluded that the class represented by Harris and the union consisted of "all females of childbearing age who might be employed or who have been employed for any time commencing with the date of November 30, 1972 by the . . . (company) at any of its facilities located in Massachusetts who have been or continue to be or might become adversely affected by the practices of the . . . (company) with respect to pregnancy related disabilities of employees." The commissioner determined that the company's "Leave of Absence for Pregnancy" policy violated G.L. c. 151B, § 4, and ordered the company to cease and desist from maintaining the policy and to pay female employees who were absent from work because of pregnancy-related disabilities the amount of temporary disability benefits they would have received had their [375 Mass. 165] disabilities not been pregnancy-related. The commissioner also awarded reasonable attorney fees for the services of the private counsel who represented the complainants.

The company appealed the decision of the single commissioner to the full commission which affirmed the single commissioner's decision. The company then sought review of the commission's decision in the Superior Court. A judge of the Superior Court, pursuant to the parties' request, reserved and reported the case. G.L. c. 231, § 111. Mass.R.Civ.P. 64, 365 Mass. 831 (1974). We granted direct appellate review.

We hold that the commission's determinations that this action could be maintained as a class action and that the union possessed standing are erroneous; we affirm the commission's decision and order in so far as it applies to the individual plaintiffs; and we reverse the award of attorney fees. 2

1. Violation of G.L. c. 151B, § 4.

General Laws c. 151B, § 4, as amended through St. 1965, c. 397, § 4 provides: "It shall be an unlawful practice: 1. For an employer, by himself or his agent, because of the race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, or ancestry of any individual, to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment such individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification." In General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S.Ct. 401, 50 L.Ed.2d 343 (1976), the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of pregnancy-related disabilities from a temporary disability plan did not violate Title [375 Mass. 166] VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-15 (1970). Because of the similarities between G.L. c. 151B, § 4, and Title VII, 3 the company contends that Gilbert should dictate the result of this decision. We disagree.

Federal statute, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-7 (1970), provides: "Nothing in this subchapter shall be deemed to exempt or relieve any person from any liability, duty, penalty, or punishment provided by any present or future law of any State or political subdivision of a State, other than any such law which purports to require or permit the doing of any act which would be an unlawful employment practice under this subchapter." Section 2000h-4 of 42 U.S.C. (1970), which applies to Titles I-XI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provides: "Nothing contained in any title of this Act shall

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be construed as indicating an intent on the part of Congress to occupy the field in which any such title operates to the exclusion of State laws on the same subject matter, nor...

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102 practice notes
  • Chaulk Services, Inc. v. Massachusetts Com'n Against Discrimination, No. 95-1249
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • August 2, 1995
    ...as being of "peripheral concern" to the NLRA. Cf. Massachusetts Electric Co. v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 174, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978) (employment discrimination of peripheral concern to the NLRA); Walker Mfg. Co. v. Industrial Commission, 27 Page 1372 W......
  • At & T Corp. v. Hulteen, No. 07–543.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2009
    ...v. Cedar Rapids Human Rights Comm'n, 268 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 1978); Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978); Minnesota Min. & Mfg. Co. v. State, 289 N.W.2d 396 (Minn.1979); Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights ex rel. Jones v. Mic......
  • AT & T Corp. v. Hulteen, No. 07–543.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2009
    ...v. Cedar Rapids Human Rights Comm'n, 268 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 1978) ; Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978) ; Minnesota Min. & Mfg. Co. v. State, 289 N.W.2d 396 (Minn.1979) ; Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights ex rel. Jones v. ......
  • At & T Corp. v. Hulteen, No. 07–543.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2009
    ...v. Cedar Rapids Human Rights Comm'n, 268 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 1978); Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978); Minnesota Min. & Mfg. Co. v. State, 289 N.W.2d 396 (Minn.1979); Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights ex rel. Jones v. Mic......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
101 cases
  • Chaulk Services, Inc. v. Massachusetts Com'n Against Discrimination, No. 95-1249
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • August 2, 1995
    ...as being of "peripheral concern" to the NLRA. Cf. Massachusetts Electric Co. v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 174, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978) (employment discrimination of peripheral concern to the NLRA); Walker Mfg. Co. v. Industrial Commission, 27 Page 1372 W......
  • At & T Corp. v. Hulteen, No. 07–543.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2009
    ...v. Cedar Rapids Human Rights Comm'n, 268 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 1978); Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978); Minnesota Min. & Mfg. Co. v. State, 289 N.W.2d 396 (Minn.1979); Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights ex rel. Jones v. Mic......
  • AT & T Corp. v. Hulteen, No. 07–543.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2009
    ...v. Cedar Rapids Human Rights Comm'n, 268 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 1978) ; Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978) ; Minnesota Min. & Mfg. Co. v. State, 289 N.W.2d 396 (Minn.1979) ; Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights ex rel. Jones v. ......
  • At & T Corp. v. Hulteen, No. 07–543.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 18, 2009
    ...v. Cedar Rapids Human Rights Comm'n, 268 N.W.2d 862 (Iowa 1978); Massachusetts Elec. Co. v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 375 Mass. 160, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (1978); Minnesota Min. & Mfg. Co. v. State, 289 N.W.2d 396 (Minn.1979); Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights ex rel. Jones v. Mic......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • MENSTRUATION DISCRIMINATION AND THE PROBLEM OF SHADOW PRECEDENTS.
    • United States
    • Columbia Journal of Gender and Law Vol. 41 Nbr. 1, September 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    ...374 F.3d 428 (6th Cir. 2004). (28) See cases cited supra note 8. (29) See, e.g., Mass. Elec. Co. v. Mass. Comm'n Against Discrimination, 375 N.E.2d 1192 (Mass. 1978); Badih v. Myerers, 43 Cal. Rptr. 2d 229 (Cal. App. (30) No. 4:17-CV-29, 2017 WL 2486080, at *2 (M.D. Ga. June 8, 2017). (31) ......

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