In Global NAPs, Inc. v. Awiszus, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) found that the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA) does not provide job protection to employees after eight weeks of maternity leave, even where the employer agrees to allow an employee to take more than eight weeks of leave. The SJC noted, however, that such employees may have remedies under different theories, such as breach of contract.
Sandy Stephens worked as a housekeeper for the president of Global NAPs. After becoming pregnant, Stephens notified Global that her last day of work before maternity leave would be July 14, 2000. Global allegedly informed Stephens that she could take maternity leave until October 2, 2000—more than eleven weeks of leave—if she had a cesarean section. Stephens gave birth by cesarean section. On September 27, 2000, more than eight weeks after her maternity leave commenced, Stephens contacted Global regarding her return to work. Global informed her that she had been fired.
Stephens filed a claim against Global, alleging that it violated the MMLA by terminating her during her maternity leave. After losing at trial, Global indicated its desire to appeal, but its attorneys missed the deadline for filing an appeal. Global subsequently filed a malpractice action against its attorneys. In order to prevail in that action, Global had to demonstrate that its appeal would have been successful. Accordingly, upon appeal of the malpractice action to the SJC, the Court examined the merits of Stephens’s claim that Global had violated the MMLA.
The SJC noted that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) had issued guidelines on the MMLA, stating that if an employer grants a longer maternity leave than the eight weeks required under the MMLA, the employer must clearly inform the employee if it does not intend for the statute’s job protections to apply to the period beyond eight weeks. However, the SJC found that the MMLA clearly states that employees are only protected under the MMLA for maternity leave of up to eight weeks. Therefore, the MCAD’s guidelines were inconsistent with the MMLA and unenforceable. Since the MMLA does not provide job protection to employees beyond eight weeks of maternity leave even where the employer agrees to permit a longer leave, Global did not violate the MMLA when it terminated Stephens, regardless of its prior agreement to allow her to take more than eleven weeks of leave.
This decision limits employee protection under the MMLA to an eight-week leave period, even where employers agree to extend the leave beyond that period. Nevertheless, as noted by the SJC, employers who offer more than eight weeks of maternity leave may still be liable for adverse employment actions that occur beyond the eight weeks based on other theories, such as breach of contract.