Public schools in Massachusetts face an ever expanding set of increasingly complex legal obligations. At Mirick O’Connell, we partner with our public school clients to provide timely, cost-efficient advice and representation to assist them in delivering educational services to their students.
Labor and Employment
We advise our clients in all labor and employment matters. We regularly advise our clients concerning their labor relations, including collective bargaining, grievance arbitration and unfair labor practices. We also provide advice concerning personnel issues such as reductions-in-force, discipline, compliance with state certification requirements, the non-renewal of teachers without professional teacher status, managing employees with medical conditions, sexual harassment investigations, and wage and hour laws. In addition, we draft employment policies and employment agreements for non-union employees such as superintendents, principals and business managers. We are one of only a few Massachusetts law firms with a public school practice that also has an extensive employee benefits practice.
In addition, we represent our clients in governmental investigations and defend them against claims before state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education and Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, as well as before state and federal courts.
We have successfully negotiated numerous union concessions to help our clients manage their budgets, prevailed at arbitrations involving both contract and disciplinary grievances and accomplished the removal of non-performing administrators in a manner that avoided legal action against the client.
Student Rights, Policies and Discipline
We advise our public school clients on issues of student rights, student discipline and student handbooks. As well, we routinely advise clients on matters such as bullying; allegations of sexual harassment against other students; student records; discipline for violence; drug/alcohol use and absenteeism; and participation in student activities.
Our recent engagements include the expulsion of students for the use of drugs on a school field trip, the analysis of a school district’s potential liability for students’ participation in an out-of-state academic competition and the determination of the permissible scope of drug testing at school-related activities.
We represent and advise our clients in special education matters with a full understanding of the difficult dynamic that exists among our clients’ limited resources, its legal obligations and the ongoing relationship between the school district and the student and the student’s family. We, therefore, focus on providing pragmatic advice and early resolution of the dispute. When this approach is not successful in accomplishing our clients’ goals, we aggressively represent their interests before the Bureau of Special Education Appeals and in court as appropriate. We also counsel our clients on related issues under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
We have recently represented clients in LEA Assignment matters and negotiated to have the DESE assume financial liability for a student’s placement. We have also represented clients in special education appeals, including cases involving students with autism.
We have extensive experience in advising public school districts on school building projects from the appointment of an Owner’s Project Manager through the resolution of post-construction warranty claims. We counsel clients and draft and negotiate contracts associated with the hiring of architects under the Designer Selection law, the pre-qualification of bidders, and the award of general contracts for construction. We also represent our clients in project closeout issues and, when necessary, pursue warranty claims and surety payment on performance bonds.
We have recently advised and represented clients in connection with both new building and school renovation/expansion projects.
We routinely advise our public school districts in issues such as interpretations of Chapter 71, the open meeting law, public records law, the state conflict of interest law, public procurement requirements and the budget process.
We have recently advised clients in connection with their regional district agreements, superintendency union agreements and the use of executive session. We have also negotiated vendor contracts such as school bus service and food service contracts.
Governor Baker Signs “Grand Bargain” Bill Creating Paid Family and Medical Leave and Raising Minimum Wage
On June 28, 2018, Governor Baker signed “An Act Relative to Minimum Wage, Paid Family Medical Leave and the Sales Tax Holiday” making Massachusetts one of very few states in the country to require employers to provide paid family and …[ load webpage to read more ]
U.S. Supreme Court Deals Blow to Public Sector Unions in Janus v. AFSCME – Holds Agency Fees May Not Be Charged to Nonconsenting Public Sector Employees
In a widely anticipated decision – Janus v. AFSCME, the United States Supreme Court ruled today that state laws authorizing public sector unions to charge agency fees are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. …[ load webpage to read more ]
Massachusetts Employers: Review Your Job Applications ASAP
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey recently took action to enforce Massachusetts’ “ban the box” law for the first (publicly known) time since the law’s enactment in 2010. The AG’s actions and related statements send a clear message to Massachusetts employers …[ load webpage to read more ]
NLRB’s General Counsel Releases Updated Guidance on Employee Handbook Rules
On June 6, 2018, the National Labor Relations Board’s (Board) General Counsel, Peter Robb, sent a Memorandum to the Board’s regional offices providing guidance on the Board’s current position regarding employee handbook rules. The General Counsel’s Memorandum comes after the …[ load webpage to read more ]
Massachusetts Ban-The-Box Law Undergoes An Update
As many of you know, in 2010, Massachusetts passed legislation which, in part, prohibits employers from including questions on job applications asking applicants to disclose their criminal history. This prohibition is often referred to as “banning-the-box.” Notwithstanding this restriction, employers …[ load webpage to read more ]
FLSA Amendment Eases Restrictions on Tip Pooling
On April 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2018-3 in response to Congress’ amendment to Section 3(m) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) with the Consolidated Appropriations Act, …[ load webpage to read more ]
Are You In Compliance with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act That Went Into Effect April 1st?
If you have not taken steps to comply with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”), you are already in violation of the statutory mandate related to required postings. Specifically, all employers with six or more employees were required to provide a notice …[ load webpage to read more ]
Attorney General’s Office Releases Guidance Interpreting an Act to Establish Pay Equity
On March 1, 2018, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office released guidance in the form of an “Overview and Frequently Asked Questions” (the “Guidance”) interpreting An Act to Establish Pay Equity, which goes into effect July 1, 2018. A copy of …[ load webpage to read more ]
Violation of Sick Time Payout Policy Not a Wage Act Violation
The Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, §148, is in the news again, the subject of another noteworthy decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Like the decision declining to extend personal liability to Board members and investors for Wage …[ load webpage to read more ]
EEOC Releases 2017 Enforcement & Litigation Statistics
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) – the federal agency tasked with enforcing certain federal employment laws – recently released its fiscal year 2017 Enforcement and Litigation Statistics. In fiscal year 2017, the EEOC resolved 99,109 charges of discrimination. In …[ load webpage to read more ]