News + Insights from the Legal Team at Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein

Last month A person holding their phone in their hands out in front of their waistdistribution of “revenge porn” – nude or sexually explicit photos or videos shared online without the consent of the person pictured – became a criminal offense in Massachusetts, as part of a bill aimed at protecting victims of abuse The Commonwealth became the second-to-last state in the country to outlaw this kind of distribution (leaving South Carolina the lone state without a law specifically addressing this issue). Congress also passed a law in 2022 that allows victims of revenge porn to sue in federal court to recover damages from the person who disclosed the images and to enjoin further sharing. The new Massachusetts legislation closes several legal gaps in state law and contains measures designed to prevent harmful online exploitation.

The typical revenge porn case involves photographs taken by or sent to an intimate partner, who then either shares them with others or posts them online. The term “revenge” porn comes from cases where the images are distributed to get revenge on a former partner by damaging their reputation or to blackmail them. However, people often share such images for other reasons, such as wanting to share an image with friends or for economic gain or entertainment. Because revenge is not always the motive, other terms such as image-based sexual abuse or nonconsensual distribution of intimate images are gaining currency as more accurate descriptions of the offense.

What is criminalized under the Massachusetts statute?

Massachusetts Department of Correction LogoWhile the DOC has a rehabilitative mission on paper, it has a reputation for violating the civil rights of its incarcerated population and discriminating and retaliating against its employees. Ten years ago, Zalkind Law sued the DOC for discrimination because the DOC paid a female deputy superintendent significantly less than her male counterparts in the same role and for retaliation based the DOC’s failure to consider her for promotion after she complained of the DOC’s unlawful practices. In 2020, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the DOC’s treatment of incarcerated people who are facing mental health crises and found the DOC fails to accommodate prisoners suffering from serious mental health issues and instead exposes them to conditions that harm them or place them at serious risk of harm. In 2021, Robert Silva-Prentice and Dionisio Paulino, two men of color, incarcerated at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center sued the DOC for violating their civil rights under state and federal laws when a group of armed officers retaliated against Black and Latino men at the prison after an altercation between incarcerated men and officers broke out at the prison on January 10, 2020. According to the complaint filed in Massachusetts District Court, these officers—at the direction of then-Deputy Commissioner, Paul Henderson—stormed into Mr. Silva-Prentice’s and Mr. Paulino’s cell and beat, tasered, and kicked them, pulled out their hair, slammed them into concrete walls and a metal doorway while directing racial, ethnic, and sexual slurs at them. There is a jury trial set for August 5, 2024. Additionally, just last year, former corrections officer, Eric Smith, a Black man, prevailed in his discrimination and retaliation case against the DOC in state court and won a jury verdict of $2.8 million. The DOC’s history of violating civil rights makes the selection for a new Commissioner particularly important.  

To guide the process of finding a new leader of the DOC, the Healey administration has created a six-person search committee:  

  • Deirdre Calvert, Director of the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services  

pexels-oriel-frankie-ashcroft-3247631-6054385-1-scaledTitle IX, passed by Congress over fifty years ago as part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, begins with a deceptively simple sentence: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  

Since 1972, the law has been interpreted by the courts, by the Department of Education (the agency charged with implementing the law), and the Department of Justice (responsible for Title IX enforcement in federal agencies). This April, the Biden administration finalized a long-awaited set of new regulations, which will replace those put in place in 2020 under President Trump. Among other provisions, the new regulations radically change the procedures for reporting and adjudicating allegations of sexual misconduct at colleges and universities. The new regulations also make clear that the term “sex” as used in Title IX includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Before the Biden regulations go into force in August, however, they are already coming under legal attack. In June, two federal district courts, one in Kentucky and one in Louisiana, issued preliminary injunctions blocking the enforcement of the new regulations in ten states: Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. 

The plaintiffs included the affected states, plus an association of Christian teachers and a female student-athlete in the Kentucky case, and a group of local public schools boards in the Louisiana case.  They primarily challenged the new regulations’ inclusion of discrimination based on gender identity within the ambit of discrimination “on the basis of sex,” with a view to its effects on primary and secondary education. Following the pattern of recent conservative attacks on trans and non-binary people, the plaintiffs objected to how the inclusion of gender identity would require public schools to allow students to use bathrooms and to play on sports teams associated with their gender identity, as well as potentially mandating that teachers and classmates use the pronouns used by a student themselves. 


As part of a bill broadly aiming to protect victims of abuse, including revenge porn and deepfakes, the Massachusetts legislature recently enacted an amendment to the restraining order statute that may have substantial unintended consequences. Although the well-intentioned provision allows a person suffering from “coercive control” to seek an abuse prevention order, there are numerous undefined or poorly-specified terms that are likely to create confusion in the courts. In addition, the amended statute may allow children to obtain restraining orders against their parents for normal parenting decisions, surely not what the General Court had in mind.  CONTINUE READING ›

graphic of traditional male and female stick figuresYesterday, the First Circuit issued its decision in L.M. v. Middleborough et al., a case we discussed previously on this blog. The case concerned whether a public middle school could prohibit a student from wearing a t-shirt that said “There are only two genders.” The district court had held that the school could, relying on the seminal case of Tinker v. DeMoines Independent Community School District. CONTINUE READING ›

pexels-cottonbro-5483161-scaledBeing placed on administrative leave can feel like limbo – you still have your job, but you’ve been told to stay away from your workplace, and perhaps your colleagues, often for an unknown amount of time. In this difficult situation, it’s important to learn about your legal rights and proceed cautiously with your workplace relationships to safeguard your career and well-being.  

What is administrative leave, and why does it happen? 

Administrative leave is when an employer removes an employee from the workplace and their job duties temporarily but, typically, continues to provide the employee with their salary and benefits. A person on administrative leave is still employed, and most employers distinguish between a non-disciplinary administrative leave and a disciplinary suspension. Administrative leave often happens when there is an allegation of misconduct against an employee. An employer may place an employee on leave to investigate allegations or to address concerns about disruptiveness or dangerousness in the workplace. In Massachusetts, where an employee must be paid in full on the day of termination, employers will sometimes place an employee on a short administrative leave pending a known termination date in order to ensure that they can comply with the Wage Act by providing full payment on the last day of work. Administrative leaves can also be mutually agreed on in some circumstances, like a sabbatical or unpaid leave. 

pexels-phung-touch-675001486-17843099-scaledOn April 17, 2024, in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, the Supreme Court held that an employee bringing a discrimination claim under Title VII based on a job transfer does not need to show that she suffered significant harm with respect to the transfer, only that she suffered some harm.

Background Facts

Sergeant Jatonya Muldrow worked as a plainclothes officer at the St. Louis Police Department in the specialized Intelligence Division from 2008 through 2017. As part of her position, Sergeant Muldrow was deputized as a Task Force Officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which granted her FBI credentials, an unmarked take-home vehicle, and the authority to pursue investigation outside St. Louis. She also worked with high-ranking officials on the Intelligence Division and worked a traditional Monday through Friday schedule.

pexels-rfstudio-3825368-scaledTenure is a crucial foundation for academic freedom at colleges and universities. Once professors receive tenure, they have a lifetime job from which it is very difficult for them to be fired. Nonetheless, tenure alone does not insulate a faculty member from institutional pressure. After all, the school still sets pay and benefits, chooses recipients for grants and awards, sets teaching assignments and schedules, and more. Faculty members in the sciences, whose research depends on access to expensive labs and equipment, are particularly dependent on financial support from their institutions. 

In a decision issued in early March in Henry Wortis v. Trustees of Tufts College, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court took on the question of what protections tenure gives professors from pay cuts and loss of access to lab space. The case was brought by eight faculty members at the Tufts University School of Medicine—including Henry Wortis, a Professor of Immunology—who were granted tenure at various points between 1970 and 2009. In 2017 and 2019, Tufts adopted new policies under which professors who failed to cover a certain percentage of their salaries with external grants could have their pay reduced. These policies resulted in very significant decreases in compensation for the plaintiffs: Wortis’s annual salary, for instance, fell from approximately $190,000 to around $97,000. Many of the plaintiffs also had their appointments reduced to less than full-time, potentially exposing them to tenure revocation procedures. Additionally, in 2016, Tufts also adopted a policy tying the availability of lab space to the coverage of indirect costs by external grant funding brought in by faculty members. Several of the plaintiffs had their lab space reduced under this policy, impeding their ability to conduct research.  

After pursuing an internal grievance procedure, the faculty plaintiffs sued the university in 2019 for breach of contract and other claims, based on both the reduction of the compensation and the loss of lab space. A Superior Court judge granted summary judgment to Tufts on all counts, and the plaintiffs appealed. In an opinion by Justice Scott Kafker, the SJC affirmed the judgement with respect to the lab space issue, but reversed on the issue of compensation, sending the case back to the trial court. 

pictogram-884043_1280Two weeks ago the First Circuit heard oral argument in a case that touches on some of the most hot-button issues in education law: student speech rights and discrimination against LGBTQ students. In L.M. v. Town of Middleborough, the Court must decide whether the Middleborough public schools could tell a student he was not allowed to wear a t-shirt that says: “There are only two genders.”  

The case started in March 2023, when seventh grader L.M. wore a shirt to school that said “there are only two genders.” L.M. made this political statement against a backdrop – according to the school—of repeated concerns at the school about bullying of LGBTQ students and several students at the school contemplating or attempting to die by suicide, including students who attributed those actions to anti-LGBTQ experiences at the school. After receiving complaints from students and staff, the principal told L.M. he had to take the shirt off if he wanted to go back to class. L.M. declined, and his parents picked him up and took him home for the rest of the day. L.M. was not disciplined for wearing the shirt and wore other shirts with various political messages with no incident. In May 2023 L.M. wore the shirt to school again—this time with a piece of tape that read “censored” covering the words “only two.” L.M. was sent to the principal during his first class and removed the shirt rather than be excluded from school for the rest of the day.  

The District Court Case 

pexels-cottonbro-studio-5077066-scaledThe ongoing battle over the employment rights of app-based drivers reached a new stage last week, when a group of drivers and union leaders brought a lawsuit to block a new set of ballot measures aimed at exempting app-based drivers from employment protections. 

When workers are categorized as employees, rather than independent contractors, the law requires their employer to provide them with certain benefits and protections. In Massachusetts, the test for determining who is an employee for purposes of the Wage Act is particularly inclusive. In the growing gig economy, providing gig workers with the expansive protections the law grants employees can be costly for employers, which has led to many battles over gig workers’ status.  

In Massachusetts, that battle grew serious in July 2020, when then-Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit in against Uber and Lyft on behalf of drivers, seeking a declaration that they qualify as employees under the Massachusetts Wage Act. That lawsuit is currently scheduled for trial in May of this year. 

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