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Clermont v. Monster Worldwide, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 6, 2015

MARC CLERMONT, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,

For Marc Clermont, On behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff: Anthony S. Augeri, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Augeri Law Group, PLLC, North Andover, MA.

For Monster Worldwide, Inc., Salvatore Iannuzzi, David Trapani, Defendants: Anne S. Bider, LEAD ATTORNEY, Seyfarth Shaw, Boston, MA; Barry J. Miller, LEAD ATTORNEY, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, Boston, MA.


Leo T. Sorokin, United States District Judge.


Defendant Monster employed Plaintiff. Am. Compl. ¶ 15. On April 3, 2014, Monster (" Defendant" ) terminated Plaintiff's employment. Id. ¶ 16. On that day Defendant, via its bank, issued an electronic transfer of funds from its account to Plaintiff's bank account in the full amount of all wages due, which was $26,401.50. Id. ¶ 18. The funds appeared in Plaintiff's account the next day, April 4. Id. ¶ 19. Defendant knew at the time it issued the electronic transfer that Plaintiff would not receive the funds until April 4. Doc. No. 5. On October 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in Massachusetts Superior Court, Compl., and filed an amended complaint on October 30, 2014, Am. Compl. Defendant received service of the amended complaint on November 14, 2014. Defs.' Notice Rem. ¶ 3. Defendants filed a notice of removal on December 4, 2014, asserting diversity jurisdiction. Id.

Plaintiff claims a violation of the Massachusetts Wage Act, chapter 149, section 148 of the Massachusetts General Laws on his own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated. Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Defendant has moved to dismiss. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss. Given that the foregoing facts appear undisputed, neither party has suggested it needs discovery to prepare its case and the case presents questions of law, the Court treats the parties' filings as cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings.

II. Statutory Requirement

The statute defines when employers must pay terminated employees: " any employee discharged from such employment shall be paid in full on the day of his discharge." Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 148. Statutory language must be interpreted " according to the intent of the Legislature ascertained from all its words construed by the ordinary and approved usage of the language" and in consideration of the purpose of the " cause of its enactment." Bos. Police Patrolmen's Ass'n v. City of Bos., 435 Mass. 718, 761 N.E.2d 479, 481 (Mass. 2002) (citing O'Brien v. Dir. of the Div. of Emp't Sec'y, 393 Mass. 482, 472 N.E.2d 253, 258 (Mass. 1984)).

The purpose of the Massachusetts Wage Act is to ensure that employees receive prompt payment of wages, Wiedmann v. The Bradford Grp., Inc., 444 Mass. 698, 831 N.E.2d 304, 308 (Mass. 2005), and to " prevent the unreasonable detention of wages" by employers. Melia v. Zenhire, Inc., 462 Mass. 164, 967 N.E.2d 580, 587 (Mass. 2012); see also, Newton v. Comm'r of the Dep't of Youth Servs., 62 Mass.App.Ct. 343, 816 N.E.2d 993, 995 (Mass.App. Ct. 2004). The Act requires " that an employer expeditiously pay a terminated employee his full wages and similar compensation," Suominen v. Goodman Indust. Equity Mgmt. Grp., LLC, 78 Mass.App.Ct. 723, 941 N.E.2d 694, 705 (Mass.App. Ct. 2011), which " must" be paid in full on the day that the employee is terminated, Prozinski v. Ne. Real Estate Servs., 59 Mass.App.Ct. 599, 797 N.E.2d 415 (Mass.App. Ct. 2003).

The plain meaning of the language " paid in full on the day of his discharge" requires the employer to transfer control over the funds to the employee on the day of discharge. By selecting the word " paid," the past tense of " to pay," the Legislature required the completion of the act of payment, a requirement emphasized by the conditions on payment, the employer must make payment " in full" and do so " on the day" of discharge. Payment is, thus, incomplete until the recipient of the funds has some control over the funds. Several reasons support the foregoing plain language construction.

First, the limited case law applying this aspect of the statute has interpreted the language in this manner. The Superior Court of the Commonwealth, in a decision by now Chief Justice Gants, ruled that giving post-dated checks to a discharged employee on the date of discharge made the payment " tardy under the Act." Dobin v. CIO view Corp., No. 2001-00108, 2003 WL 22454602, at *8 (Mass. Supp. Oct. 29, 2003). Because the checks were post-dated, the plaintiff in Dobin, though in possession of the checks, did not have control over the funds.

Second, the context in which the statute applies supports requiring the transfer of control over the funds to the employee to occur on the day of discharge. The parties -- employer and employee -- are necessarily going their separate ways. The employer has severed its employment relationship with the employee and the Legislature has required the employer to complete that process by making payment that day. By requiring the employer to relinquish control of the funds to the employee, the statute ensures a clean final separation of the parties.

Third, under Massachusetts law generally, " payment" occurs when funds are " tendered and accepted." Goldman v. Peterson, 1997 Mass.App.Div. 189 (1997) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990)). When paying by check, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (" SJC" ) has ruled that payment is made " when the check is 'drawn on an account with sufficient funds to cover' [it]...and is delivered to the payee." First Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Commw., 391 Mass. 321, 461 N.E.2d 789, 792-93 (Mass. 1984) (citing Terry v. Kemper Ins. Co., 390 Mass. 450, 456 N.E.2d 465, 468 (Mass. 1983)) (emphasis added). Due to the similar nature of transferring funds through the delivery of a check and through electronic transfer from one bank account to another, the SJC ruling applies equally here. An employer makes " payment" electronically when the funds are received in the employee's bank account.

Fourth, numerous Massachusetts statutes use the phrase " paid in full." See, e.g., Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 172, § 24 (" no dividends shall be declared or paid ...until all such cumulative dividends shall have been paid in full" ); ch. 62C, § 67 (an application for registration may be denied if tax payable " has not been paid in full" ); ch. 164, § 1H(b)(2) (" the transition charge and its payment...shall be binding...until the bonds are paid in full" ). Generally, the statutes use the phrase in the sense that paid in full means the recipient has received payment or control over the funds. Two statutes in particular bear mention. Chapter 65, section 22 provides that " [a]ny unpaid amount of the tax shown to be due on said return...shall be paid in full with the return," meaning that the Commissioner must receive payment with or at the time of receipt of the return, not later by electronic transfer initiated the day of the return. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 65, § 22. Similarly, Chapter 140, section 114B authorizes certain creditors to collect a delinquency charge " on any payment not paid in full ...

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