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Mui v. Massachusetts Port Authority

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

January 29, 2018

TZE-KIT MUI
v.
MASSACHUSETTS PORT AUTHORITY.

          Heard: November 6, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October 17, 2014. The case was heard by Robert B. Gordon, J., on motions for judgment on the pleadings.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Laurie F. Rubin for the defendant.

          Kevin C. Merritt for the plaintiff.

          David J. Fried, for Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Budd, & Cypher, JJ.

          BUDD, J.

         The plaintiff, Tze-Kit Mui, sued his former employer, Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport or agency), alleging that Massport failed to timely compensate him for his accrued, unused sick time under the Wage Act, G. L. c. 149, §§ 148, 150 (Wage Act or act). A Superior Court judge allowed Mui's motion for judgment on the pleadings. Massport appealed, and we transferred the case here on our own initiative. Because we conclude that payment for accrued, unused sick time (sick pay) does not count as "wages" under the act, we vacate the judgment and remand the matter to the Superior Court.[1]

         Background.

         In 2013, Massport initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mui, a longtime employee.[2] One week later, he applied for retirement. Massport's employees' retirement system set Mui's retirement date retroactively, despite the fact that the disciplinary proceedings had not been resolved. Several weeks later, Massport discharged Mui for cause.[3] The termination was subsequently overturned pursuant to a grievance procedure.[4]

         Under Massport's sick pay policy, eligible employees receive payment for a percentage of the value of their accrued, unused sick time upon separation from the agency.[5] Employees who are discharged for cause are not eligible for sick pay.

         Prior to the completion of the grievance process, Massport's position was that because the agency initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mui by suspending him prior to his application for retirement, and then terminated him (an action that was later reversed), he was not entitled to any sick pay. Once the arbitrator ruled that Massport could not terminate Mui because he had already retired, the agency paid the value of Mui's accrued sick time pursuant to its policy. Because of the grievance proceedings, however, the payment was made over one year later than Mui's effective retirement date.[6]

         Mui brought suit against Massport, claiming that the agency violated the Wage Act by failing to compensate him for his accrued, unused sick time within the time frame mandated by the act. The Superior Court judge agreed and allowed ...


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