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05/04/78 MASSACHUSETTS ELECTRIC COMPANY v.

May 4, 1978

MASSACHUSETTS ELECTRIC COMPANY
v.
MASSACHUSETTS COMMISSION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION



Suffolk. Civil action commenced in the Superior Court on July 12, 1976. The case was reported by Lynch, J., to the Appeals Court. The Supreme Judicial Court granted a request for direct review.

Hennessey, C.j., Quirico, Braucher, Kaplan, & Abrams, JJ.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Anti-Discrimination Law. Statute, Construction, Preemption. Practice, Civil, Parties. Labor. Voluntary Association, Labor union. Damages, Under anti-discrimination law, Counsel fees.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Abrams

A construction of G. L. c. 151B, § 4, requiring the inclusion of pregnancy-related disabilities in a comprehensive disability plan was not precluded by the Supreme Court's interpretation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1970) in General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976). [165-167]

The exclusion of pregnancy-related disabilities from a company's comprehensive disability plan constituted discrimination because of sex in violation of G. L. c. 151B, § 4. [167-172]

On appeal from a decision of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, a company was precluded by G. L. c. 151B, § 6, from raising an issue in this court which was not raised before the commission. [172-173]

Preemption of State labor regulation by the National Labor Relations Act did not preclude application of G. L. c. 151B, § 4, to require the inclusion of pregnancy-related disabilities in a comprehensive disability plan contained in a collective bargaining agreement nor require construction of the statute in accordance with the standards expressed in General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976). [173-176]

General Laws c. 151B did not authorize the maintenance of a class action in a proceeding before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. [176-177]

In a proceeding before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination challenging the exclusion of pregnancy-related disabilities from a company's comprehensive disability plan contained in a collective bargaining agreement, the commission erred in granting a union standing to file the complaint in the absence of evidence and findings concerning the union's role in negotiating the agreement. [177-179]

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. *fn1 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 " 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 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 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 ...


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