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


We are pleased to announce that seven of our attorneys have been selected to the 2020 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list. We would also like to congratulate four of our attorneys for being selected to the 2020 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.

See below for press coverage on a discrimination and retaliationsuit recently filed by Attorney David A. Russcol against the Town of Williamstown. Read the full complaint here.

Attorneys Ruth O’Meara-Costello and David Russcol spoke to Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly about last week’s decision in Helfman v. Northeastern University, et al. The Court held that colleges have a duty to protect their students from alcohol-related harm under certain circumstances. Attorneys O’Meara-Costello and Russcol discussed the implications of this decision for colleges going forward. Click here to read more.

US-DOE-seal-300x300The Department of Education’s new Title IX regulations, which have now been officially published, run to over 550 pages of fine print in the Federal Register or over 2000 pages in regular font. Few people have the time or knowledge necessary to identify the most important parts of the regulations, let alone read the entire document from start to finish. Without context about the rule-making process, it can be difficult to understand why the regulations are structured the way they are. But understandable or not, the regulations have significant ramifications for students and educational institutions subject to Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination in education. This post breaks down the different parts of the regulations, which parts have legal effect, and why.

Laws passed by Congress often leave details up to the agencies designated to enforce them – sometimes very important details. Title IX itself is relatively brief, providing that “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,” with a limited set of exceptions. It is left primarily to the Department of Education to interpret and effectuate this non-discrimination mandate.


US-DOE-sealThe new Title IX regulations from the Department of Education (summarized by my colleague here) promise significant procedural protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, and require that all potential victims of sexual harassment be offered supportive services at a minimum. Among other things, the regulations mandate that, in response to a “formal complaint” of “sexual harassment,” a university give an accused student notice of the allegations and sufficient time to prepare for any meetings, an opportunity to gather and present evidence to an unbiased investigator who must presume the accused student’s innocence, and a live hearing at which the accused student’s attorney or other advisor can cross-examine the complainant and other witnesses, among other requirements.

However, the regulations narrow the scope of Title IX’s applicability to sexual harassment significantly compared to how many institutions currently apply it. Allegations of sexual assaults off campus or outside the country, sexual harassment where the complainant is not affiliated with the accused student’s university, and acts that do not meet the stringent definition of sexual harassment in the regulations are among various situations that are left out of the procedures required by the regulations. As to these allegations, universities seem to have a freer hand, subject to the requirements of other federal and state laws.


In Parker v. EnerNOC, Inc., the Supreme Judicial Court held that employers who fire or otherwise retaliate against their employees in order to avoid paying earned commissions must pay treble damages for those lost commissions. Zalkind Law’s David Russcol, along with Audrey Richardson of Greater Boston Legal Services, submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association, Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, Lawyers for Civil Rights, and Fair Employment Project. The plaintiff in Parker landed a major sale for her employer, but the jury found that her employer fired her after she complained about being underpaid on her commissions (and for being subjected to sex discrimination, which was not at issue in this appeal). A large portion of her commission only became due a year later, after the customer decided not to exercise an option to cancel its contract. The SJC agreed with David’s argument that the commissions the plaintiff would have been paid if she had not been fired qualify as “lost wages” under the Massachusetts Wage Act, meaning that she could recover triple that amount. In doing so, the SJC rejected the trial judge’s interpretation that only commissions that were due and payable as of the last day of employment should be tripled – a reading of the law that would encourage employers to fire employees to deprive them of earned commissions. The SJC strongly reinforced the purpose of the Wage Act to protect employees from wage theft, and clearly stated that an employer cannot make commissions contingent on continued employment, and then rely on that contingency to deny payment to a terminated employee who has done the work to earn the commission. This decision emphasizes the broad reach of the Wage Act’s protections, as well as the substantial remedies (including treble damages and attorney’s fees) against those who violate this law.

Attorneys Naomi Shatz and David Russcol were interviewed by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly about the right to cross-examination in sexual misconduct investigations at private colleges, following the First Circuit’s recent decision in Doe v. Boston College. Click here to read the article, and click here to read Attorney Russcol’s blog post about the decision.

IMG_1541In Doe v. Trustees of Boston College, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit refused to extend due process protections to private Massachusetts colleges, despite its recent holding in Haidak v. UMass-Amherst that some form of cross-examination or equivalent questioning is required at public universities. It therefore reversed a District Court decision that would have required some form of real-time questioning on issue of credibility. In so doing, the First Circuit deferred to state courts and the state legislature to define the contours of the “basic fairness” requirements for private schools under state law (having ducked the issue in a previous decision in a different Boston College case). This narrow holding underscores the need for further development of state law governing student discipline in light of significant developments in law and practice around the country since the Massachusetts appellate courts last weighed in more than 10 years ago. 


RusscolZalkind Law’s David Russcol submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Parker v. Enernoc, Inc., a case heard last week in the Supreme Judicial Court. The plaintiff was fired soon after closing the largest sale in her employer’s history, which the jury found was in retaliation for complaining of violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act. Some of the commissions on that sale were not due until a year later. The Wage Act provides that “lost wages and other benefits” due to retaliation are tripled, but the lower court did not triple those unpaid commissions. David argued on behalf of the Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association, Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, Lawyers for Civil Rights, and Fair Employment Project that employers cannot avoid paying commissions by firing employees before the commissions are due, and that the plaintiff’s unpaid wages had to be tripled in order to avoid giving employers an incentive to engage in illegal retaliation.

Read the brief here: Amicus Brief – Parker v. Enernoc, Inc

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