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.
Decision in Spaulding v. Town of Natick School Committee is a Message to All School Committees
A Superior Court Judge recently issued a decision holding that portions of the Natick School Committee’s Public Participation at School Committee Meetings Policy (the “Policy”) are unconstitutional. The relevant provisions, which are common in similar school committee policies across the …[ load webpage to read more ]
Department of Labor Releases Proposed Rule to Increase Minimum Salary Threshold for Overtime Exemption
On March 7, 2019, the Department of Labor released a long-awaited proposal to increase the minimum salary requirement for exempt employees from $23,660 to $35,308. The DOL’s proposed rule comes nearly two months after it sent the rule to the …[ load webpage to read more ]
Coming to a Workplace Near You: New Fair Labor Standards Act Overtime Regulations Appear Imminent
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently sent proposed regulations to the Federal Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to amend the Fair Labor Standard Act’s White Collar Exemptions – i.e., the professional, executive and administrative exemptions – by increasing …[ load webpage to read more ]
WARN Act Violations ≠ Wage Act Violations
Early in 2018, the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, §148, was in the news with two noteworthy decisions by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Bookending 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court closed the year with yet another decision narrowing the …[ load webpage to read more ]
U.S. Secretary of Education Released Proposed Changes to Title IX Regulations
On November 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released proposed changes to Title IX regulations on sexual harassment. While the public has 60 days to comment before the regulations take effect, the following are the key aspects of …[ load webpage to read more ]
Judicial Protection of the Employment Relationship: The Broad Reach of the Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Prohibition
The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently had the opportunity to assess the limits of a statute designed to protect employees – the prohibition on employer retaliation against employees for pursuing Workers’ Compensation claims. The Court seized upon the unique facts of …[ load webpage to read more ]
Massachusetts Employers: Don’t Forget to Submit the New HIRD Form by November 30
All Massachusetts employers with six or more employees must submit a Health Insurance Responsibility Disclosure form (“HIRD Form”) to MassHealth through the MassTaxConnect web portal by November 30, 2018. In November 2017, Massachusetts amended Chapter 118E of the General Laws …[ load webpage to read more ]
Constructive Discharge Claims: Recent Appellate Decision Narrows Availability
In our defense of employers, we often see the situation where an employee who has quit makes the argument as part of the claim that the actions of the employer compelled the employee to resign. This “constructive discharge” argument can …[ load webpage to read more ]
New Federal Background Notice Form
In September of 2018, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of the United States issued an update of the Agency’s model Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act notice which must be provided to applicants and employees that are subject to a background …[ load webpage to read more ]
Is Your Noncompete Still Valid? Technically Yes, But . . . Recent Decision Foreshadows How The New Massachusetts Noncompetition Agreement Act May Impact Existing Agreements
In an earlier post, we reported on the passage of the new Massachusetts Noncompetition Agreement Act, which takes effect on October 1, 2018, and significantly changes the law in this area by narrowing the permissible protections and imposing several new …[ load webpage to read more ]