In Everett v. The 357 Corp., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) dismissed a disability discrimination claim for lack of jurisdiction, ruling that while the plaintiff had filed a wrongful termination charge before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before the MCAD concerning his subsequent failure to rehire claim.
Joseph Everett worked as a commercial truck driver for The 357 Corp. company. In early 1996, Everett developed schizophrenia, which led to his termination in 1997 when doctors deemed him unfit to drive a commercial motor vehicle under Department of Transportation regulations. That same year, Everett filed an unsuccessful disability discrimination charge with the MCAD, alleging that his employer unlawfully terminated him based upon a perceived disability. In 1999, Everett attempted to regain his former position, this time by presenting new evidence that he had recovered from his schizophrenia, but the company refused to rehire him.
Everett then filed suit in the Massachusetts Superior Court, claiming that his employer discriminated against him in 1997 when it terminated his employment. Throughout the case, Everett never referenced the company’s failure to rehire him in 1999, but when trial began, he waived all claims related to the 1997 events and argued that the only issue was the 1999 failure to rehire. The company objected, arguing that the Superior Court had no jurisdiction over the failure to rehire claim because Everett did not raise this claim in his 1997 charge before the MCAD. The Court overruled this objection, and the jury found the employer liable.
The company appealed and the SJC decided to hear the case. Everett argued that the Superior Court had jurisdiction because the “scope of the investigation” rule allows claims not explicitly raised before the MCAD to be brought in Superior Court if they are based on facts that the MCAD reasonably would have uncovered during its investigation. The SJC rejected this argument because the MCAD closed its investigation in 1997, and Everett’s complaint was not “pending” with the agency when new events unfolded in 1999. Everett also argued that he raised his failure to rehire claim before the MCAD during his appeal of the MCAD’s dismissal of his charge. The SJC, however, ruled that a complainant may not raise new allegations based on new facts in an MCAD appeal. The Court concluded that because Everett had conceded his employer did not discriminate against him in 1997, his argument that the failure to rehire was “reasonably related” to a prior discriminatory act must fail. The SJC further held that neither the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) nor Massachusetts General Laws ch. 151B (Chapter 151B) entitles a validly terminated employee to be rehired once his or her disability disappears.
This case is noteworthy because it demonstrates that a plaintiff may not sue based on new events that are outside the scope of an MCAD charge. The decision also affirms an employer’s right to refuse to rehire a lawfully terminated disabled employee even if he or she later becomes fit to work.