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Update: Court of Appeals Affirms the U.S. District Court’s Ruling Continuing the Application of the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law to Unionized Employers.

Update: Court of Appeals Affirms the U.S. District Court’s Ruling Continuing the Application of the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law to Unionized Employers

January 3, 2017

As we reported to you on July 10, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts rejected the argument that federal labor law preempted Massachusetts’ new Earned Sick Time Law, dismissing a lawsuit seeking a contrary finding.  Following the District Court’s dismissal of the case, the group of employers’ associations and employers (“employers”) appealed the District Court’s decision.

On appeal, the employers sought relief from a broad category of enforcement actions that may be brought under Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time Law (“ESTL”).  The employers argued that the ESTL “is preempted” by federal labor law, Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, “with respect” to employers in Massachusetts who are parties to collective bargaining agreements.  On December 16, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit considered the petitioners/employers’ arguments.  Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision and dismissed the suit as premature at best.

The Court of Appeals held that “the employers’ unusual request for sweeping pre-enforcement relief is not ripe for adjudication no matter how it is best characterized.”  The Court also noted that this case was contingent on the details of “future ESTL claims” not yet known, and the harm (or hardship) to employers was similarly contingent.

Writing for the Court, Circuit Judge Barron went on to hold that “[i]t is thus only once the specifics of an actual claim are known that it will be possible to determine both how that claim relates to the governing [collective bargaining agreement] and how that claim may implicate Section 301 preemption.”  Since there was no basis for reversing the District Court’s ruling, the Court dismissed this suit for lack of jurisdiction.  Although we had hoped for a different outcome, the decision is not particularly surprising.

Compliance with the ESTL can be tricky, especially under collective bargaining agreements. For more information, please contact Peter Bennett (pbennett@thebennettlawfirm.com) or Rick Finberg (rfinberg@thebennettlawfirm.com) of The Bennett Law Firm.

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