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Mar 2011

Jack Coakley secured the dismissal of gender/sexual orientation discrimination claims asserted by two former employees of a substance abuse center, which were filed against their former employer with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”).  The Complainants, both women, began a romantic relationship while they were employed by the treatment center and while one of the Complainant’s directly supervised the other.  This situation violated the center’s written anti-fraternization policy, which prohibited such relationships where there was a direct or secondary line of supervision between the employees involved.   The Center transferred the Complainant who had held the supervisory position to a different department, but with the same duties, title, and pay, to avoid any appearance of impropriety with respect to her dealings with the other Complainant.  A few months later, the Center eliminated that supervisor’s position in a company reorganization and she was given another position.  The Complainants argued that the initial transfer and the subsequent elimination of the supervisory Complainant’s position were discriminatory and that no such measures were taken when heterosexual employees had “office romances.”  The Complainants also asserted that they were subjected to increased scrutiny and a hostile attitude by coworkers and supervisors.  In defending the case, Jack Coakley demonstrated that the instances of heterosexual “office romance” cited by the Complainants were distinguishable in that there was no direct or secondary supervisory relationship between the employees involved.  It was also shown that the reassignment of the supervisory Complainant was not an adverse action in that her title, pay, benefits, duties and opportunity for advancement remained the same.  It was also demonstrated that the elimination of the supervisory Complainant’s position was unrelated to her sexual orientation and was motivated by a need to address inefficiencies and redundancies at the center.   Finally, it was also demonstrated that each of the alleged instances of a hostile work environment either did not happen or were mundane instances of coworkers squabbling and were unrelated to the Complainants’ sexual orientation.  The MCAD, after thoroughly investigating the allegations, made lack of probable cause findings with respect to all of the Complainants’ claims and the cases were dismissed.  The Complainants did not appeal the decisions.

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