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Workplace bullying: Employees can sue for both discrimination and civil harassment

Massachusetts state law empowers an employee to sue for employment discrimination under a specific statute, Massachusetts General Law chapter 151B.  There is a separate statute that allows individuals to make a claim for harassment against a non-family member like a co-worker.   The harassment must involve a threat of physical harm or property.  It applies to egregious behavior like stalking.  Immediate injunctive relief is available.

Example: An employee filed a complaint for sex discrimination after her her boss continually pushed, grabbed and pinched her. She added a claim for criminal harassment.  The employer unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the case, arguing that the anti-discrimination law was her sole remedy.  The Court disagreed.  Massachusetts General Law chapter 258E can apply to workplace bullying that isn’t necessarily motivated by discrimination.  Since there was a dispute about whether the employer’s motivation for his behavior was discriminatory, the exclusivity provision of chapter 258E did not apply.

This ruling creates a narrow window that allows targets of threatening harassment at work to seek a civil remedy along with an injunction to make the behavior stop.  It does not open the door to sue an employer for being a bully.  Threats to a person’s phyisical safety or property are required. The  Superior Court decision is Shipley v. Nagel Cutrell Wendell & Associates.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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