In Ryan v. Holie Donut, Inc. the Massachusetts Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a wrongful termination case that stemmed from alleged sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace. The Court concluded that the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because of her failure to file a timely administrative charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).
Plaintiff Maria Ryan was an employee of Holie Donut. According to her complaint, in 2006 a police officer who frequented the donut shop began a pattern of sexual harassment that included a sexual assault. In September 2007, Ryan informed Holie Donut that she intended to report the police officer's conduct to law enforcement. Ryan claimed that Holie Donut encouraged her not to report the police officer's conduct, and that it discharged her after she initiated steps to report the conduct.
On September 2, 2010, almost three years after her termination, Ryan filed a complaint in superior court against Holie Donut, alleging that her termination constituted a wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Holie Donut moved to dismiss Ryan's complaint on the basis that she had failed to file an administrative charge with the MCAD within 300 days of the alleged harassing and retaliatory conduct. The superior court granted Holie Donut's motion, and Ryan appealed.
In her appeal, Ryan argued that her claim for wrongful termination fell outside of Chapter 151B because she alleged that Holie Donut's conduct – terminating her in response to her report of a crime to law enforcement – is not a practice that is forbidden by Chapter 151B. Therefore, according to Ryan, she was not required to file an administrative charge with the MCAD within 300 days of the retaliatory conduct.
The Court rejected Ryan's argument. While recognizing that Massachusetts law permits claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy in limited circumstances, the Court examined the allegations of her complaint and found that a "full and balanced view of the complaint reveals a story of sexual harassment." The Court noted that Chapter 151B furnishes a "comprehensive remedial process designed to resolve claims of discrimination with fairness and efficiency for both the complainant and the respondent." The Court held that Ryan's claims fell within the statutory jurisdiction of the MCAD, and that her failure to first file an administrative charge within the 300 day deadline required dismissal of her complaint.
This decision is helpful for employers who find themselves faced with plaintiffs who seek to avoid Chapter 151B's filing requirements (including its 300 day limitations period) by characterizing their claim as one for wrongful termination.