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Joint-RollingWe frequently get inquiries from employees who are unsure of their rights regarding cannabis. Their confusion is understandable, since marijuana is very much in a legal gray area. Although possession of any amount of marijuana is a federal crime, Congress and Justice Department priorities have sharply limited enforcement of federal law against most people who have marijuana only for personal use. Under Massachusetts state law, different statutes authorize medical and recreational sale and use of cannabis. State-licensed dispensaries sell cannabis in cities and towns across Massachusetts for medical purposes and increasingly for non-medical purposes as well. Depending on the situation, employees who use cannabis may or may not have legal protections. This general overview will focus on three areas: drug testing, the use of medical cannabis under state law, and recreational marijuana. 

Massachusetts employers may require employees to take drug tests under some circumstances, but the employers must meet specific legal criteriaUnder federal and state laws against disability discrimination (the Americans with Disabilities Act and Chapter 151B), an employer may be permitted to require an applicant to undergo a test for illegal drugs after offering the applicant a job, if the test is relevant to the employee’s ability to perform the job and is applied equally to all employees in the same job category. After an employee has been hired, any drug test must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. Because marijuana is illegal for federal purposes but legal under state law, it is unclear whether Massachusetts employers may test for marijuana even if they can test for other drugs; however, if there is a specific federal requirement to test for marijuana, such as for truck driversthe federal law would govern. 

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writing-1149962_1920In our last post, we assessed the provisions and potential impacts of two of the campus sexual misconduct bills that will be considered by the Massachusetts Legislature in an upcoming hearing on April 9. In this post we are focusing on several of the other bills that will be up for debate, including one that would require a school to label a student’s transcript as soon as he or she is accused of certain criminal acts and another that would mandate sexual harassment training for all Massachusetts college and university students, faculty, and staff.

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MoneyThe Supreme Judicial Court in the recent case of Ferman v. Sturgis Cleaners, Inc. addressed a limited but important question under state law: when an employee brings a claim for violation of the Wage Act or similar statutes and then settles the claim before trial, can the court award attorney’s fees to the employee? This is a common situation because wage cases, like any other civil cases, typically are resolved one way or another before going all the way to trial. The SJC held that, in contrast to federal law, a plaintiff who obtains a favorable settlement is a prevailing party under state law, and therefore can seek attorney’s fees. There are unique aspects of the Wage Act that make settlements especially common, such as mandatory treble damages, but the provision requiring an award of attorney’s fees to prevailing plaintiffs works the same under other employment-related and civil rights statutes. Thus, this decision is likely to be applicable beyond the specific context of the Wage Act.

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Today, Emma Quinn-Judge, David Russcol, Ana Munoz, and Harvey Silverglate filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court challenging Harvard’s policy that punishes students who join single-sex organizations. As the complaint in the case notes “As a result of this policy, almost every single-sex organization available to undergraduate women at Harvard closed its doors, or reorganized as a co-ed social organization. Most male single-sex organizations, by contrast, remain open, providing men with relationships, opportunities, and experiences to which Harvard undergraduate women now have limited access.” Harvard’s policy, which bars members of single-sex social organizations from holding leadership positions on campus, varsity team athletic captaincies, and prohibits them from receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships, “violates the fundamental rights of Harvard women and men to associate freely with their peers and to live free of sex discrimination, rights guaranteed by articles 1 and 19 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution, as amended, as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”

Information about the firm’s suit, and a parallel federal lawsuit also filed today, can be found at www.standuptoharvard.org.

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On November 16, 2018, the U.S. Department of Education released draft regulations that would significantly reform Title IX requirements for schools in dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus. Naomi Shatz has tweetstormed initial summaries and analysis of key features of the draft regulations. There is a lot to unpack in the regulations, and we will undoubtedly have more to write about them in the coming weeks. They also may change before they become final; this publication is the start of a 60-day public comment period, after which the Department of Education must reconsider and respond to input from the public before the regulations become effective. However, once the regulations are finalized, they will have the force of law and will be difficult to change, so it is very important to focus on what is in the draft now.

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We are pleased to announce that five of our attorneys have been selected to the 2018 Massachusetts Super Lawyers List. We would also like to congratulate six of our attorneys for being selected to the 2018 Massachusetts Rising Stars list.

Super Lawyers rates outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations, and peer evaluations. Only up to 5 percent of the lawyers in a state are named to the Super Lawyers list, and no more than 2.5 percent are named to the Rising Stars list.

Please join us in congratulating the following attorneys who have been selected as “Super Lawyers” and “Rising Stars” this year.

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On August 10, 2018, Governor Baker signed a new law that, among many other things, restricts and reforms noncompetition agreements, which are commonly used by employers in some sectors of the economy. Noncompetition agreements, or noncompetes, restrict what an individual can do during or after their employment – typically, to prevent them fromhandshake working for competitors or entering market areas where the employer is already present. Although reasonable noncompetes sometimes serve to protect legitimate business interests of an employer, they can also be used to punish employees who decide to leave, or even lock them into their current employers by severely limiting permissible opportunities to work elsewhere. In one egregious case, the sandwich shop Jimmy John’s attempted to use noncompetition agreements to stop fast food workers from leaving for competitors, although they stopped this practice after investigations by multiple state attorneys general.

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Zalkind Law’s David Russcol participated in a Wage Theft Legal Clinic yesterday through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. There were many people who had not been paid fairly by their employers. VLP and other community organizations are helping them get legal assistance. Thanks to the MA Attorney General’s Office and Suffolk University Law School for organizing and hosting!

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