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Flint v. City of Boston

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

October 24, 2018

CITY OF BOSTON & another.[1]

          Heard: February 9, 2018.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on March 5, 2012. The case was heard by Paul D. Wilson, J., on a motion for summary judgment.

          Emma Quinn-Judge (Monica R. Shah also present) for the plaintiff.

          Kay H. Hodge (John M. Simon also present) for the defendants.

          Present: Green, C.J., Henry, & Singh, JJ.

          HENRY, J.

         In this employment discrimination action, Priscilla Flint appeals from a summary judgment entered in favor of the defendants. The principal question presented is whether the plaintiff's administrative complaint was timely. After a careful review of the record, we conclude that the question of timeliness cannot be decided as a matter of law. Accordingly, we reverse the summary judgment on the pay discrimination claim. However, we agree that summary judgment was properly granted to the defendants on Flint's constructive discharge claim and on her breach of contract claim.

         1. Background.

         We summarize the undisputed facts drawn from the summary judgment record; to the extent the record includes disputed evidence, we consider that evidence in the light most favorable to Flint, against whom summary judgment entered. See Bulwer v. Mount Auburn Hosp., 473 Mass. 672, 680 (2016). We focus first on allegations relating to the timeliness of Flint's claims.

         In August, 1997, the city of Boston (city) hired Flint, a black woman, as a payroll accountant in the treasury department. For the duration of Flint's employment, Vivian Leo, who is white, held the position of first-assistant treasurer-collector. By the end of 1997, Flint was promoted to senior accountant and received a substantial pay raise. Flint was supervised by Marissa Sheehan. When Sheehan departed for a two-year special assignment in July, 1998, Flint accepted an offer from Leo to assume Sheehan's position as payroll supervisor. This was a position at the pay grade of middle management 8 (MM-8), and Flint assumed management of four staff members.[2] Flint also began performing work for the Boston Teachers' Retirement Fund Association (teachers' fund), and receiving an accompanying stipend for these services.

         In 2008, Leo decided to merge the payroll and general services departments. Leo informed Flint that when the general services supervisor, Judy Cataldo, retired, she wanted Flint to manage both departments. When Flint hesitated, Leo stated, "You will be getting a raise . . . this is a promotion for you." Leo indicated that Flint would be upgraded to an MM-9 position, which paid an additional $5, 000 to $10, 000 per year and that the "raise would happen soon."[3] Flint accepted the offer and began working in her new role on October 1, 2008.

         The newly created position substantially increased Flint's workload and added three staff members under her supervision for a total of seven. Leo believed that Flint was entitled to the MM-9 pay rate, retroactive to when Flint assumed the position.

         Leo called two meetings to announce Flint's promotion. At a general staff meeting, when an employee questioned why the job had not been posted, Leo responded that she did not have to post it. At a second meeting, Leo informed the managers that she wanted to quell rumors questioning whether Flint had been promoted; Leo stated that Flint was promoted and "that was that."

         On two or three occasions in the winter and spring of 2009, Leo assured Flint that she was "working on" the raise and that Flint would get it. When asked about the delay, Leo explained that "they were doing something with the budget." Flint trusted Leo "to do what she said she would do" because she had promoted Flint twice before and each time Flint received a pay raise. Flint understood that Leo had to clear the raise through Lisa Signori, the city's chief financial officer and the collector-treasurer, as well as through the city's human resources department (HR). Flint "did not want to go over [Leo's] head" to speak with Signori because, at the time, she had a "very good working relationship" with Leo, and "could almost call [Leo] my friend."

         Flint next approached Leo on October 1, 2009, stating, "I need my raise. You promised me a raise. When am I going to get my raise?" Leo replied that they needed "to wait until the elections are over. There is [sic] going to be some new changes." Flint indicated that was "okay," but repeated that she wanted her raise, and Leo reiterated that Flint was "going to get it." Around this time, Flint also spoke to Vivian Leonard, the city's HR director. Leonard encouraged Flint to "hang in there," stating that she was "going to get the raise."[4]

         After two more promises of a forthcoming raise by Leo in December, 2009, and the spring of 2010 that never came to fruition, Flint then went out on an extended medical leave for her second knee replacement. Upon Flint's return to work on July 15, 2010, Leo informed Flint that she was not getting a raise, stating, "There is no money in the budget. No one is getting a raise .... There is nothing I can do. Go talk to Lisa Signori." Flint did attempt to speak with Signori the next day, but was advised that Signori was leaving the treasury.

         Flint also learned in July, 2010, that the teachers' fund work and accompanying stipend had been discontinued during her medical leave. Leo denied having a part in the removal, initially informing Flint that the stipend had been taken away from the treasury department. When Flint questioned Leo further, Leo stated that the board of trustees of the teachers' fund had voted to pay Sheehan for the services instead of Flint. However, the payroll supervisor for the Boston public school department informed Flint that Leo sent a letter asking that the work and accompanying stipend be taken away from Flint and given to Sheehan.[5] Flint confronted Leo, who stated that she wrote the letter because Flint was out on medical leave and was therefore unable to do the work. Flint never received the work and stipend back.

         After Leo told Flint she would not be getting a raise, Flint met with John Zuccaro, the union president, and attempted to file a grievance over the pay raise denial. Zuccaro told her she was two years too late, adding in conversation that he had known Leo for thirty years and had gone to school with her.[6]

         On August 26, 2010, Flint submitted a compensation grade appeal to her union pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the city and the union.[7] The city's office of labor relations date-stamped the appeal as received. Leonard, a signatory to the CBA on behalf of the city, ...

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