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Massachusetts Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Worker’s Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim But Says She Should Have Been Allowed to Add FMLA Claim

Massachusetts workers have certain protections under state and federal law. For instance, most workplace injury cases fall under the provisions of Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws. Generally speaking, if a worker’s injury is covered by workers’ compensation, he or she will not be able to file a negligence lawsuit against the employer or a co-worker. While there are some exceptions to this general rule, most such claims are barred under Massachusetts law. A recent case explored this concept.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appeals court case, the plaintiff was a woman who sued her former employer (a bank) and two former co-workers, alleging that she had suffered personal injuries due to the defendants’ creation of a “toxic work environment” and asserting claims for negligent retention and/or supervision, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

The plaintiff opposed the defendants’ motion and moved for permission to amend her complaint to assert a claim for retaliation under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The trial court judge dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint without ruling on her motion to amend. The plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Opinion

On appeal to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiff primarily argued that the lower tribunal had erred in dismissing her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against the individual defendants and in refusing to allow her to amend her complaint to add a FMLA claim. The appellate court agreed with the trial court judge’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s emotional distress claim but found that reversible error had been committed with regard to the denial of the plaintiff’s motion to amend her complaint.

According to the court of appeals, the court found that the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint placed the conduct of the individual defendants “squarely within” the scope of their employment with the bank; accordingly, the court held that dismissal of the plaintiff’s emotional distress claim was appropriate in light of the exclusivity provisions of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. Under the Act, an employee’s lawsuit for an intentional tort, including the intentional infliction of emotional distress, is barred.

With respect to the plaintiff’s motion to amend, however, the court held that, because the plaintiff had put forth an actionable claim for retaliation under the FMLA and there had been no undue delay or prejudice, she should have been allowed to amend her complaint. Accordingly, the portion of the trial court’s order denying the plaintiff leave to amend was vacated, but the remainder of the order was affirmed on appeal.

Contact a Lawyer in Cape Cod

If you have been hurt due to another’s negligence or intentional conduct, you should talk to an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney. At the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, we handle personal injury accidents, slip and fall cases, car and truck accidents, and workers’ compensation cases. To schedule a free consultation, phone us at 888-262-6664, and we will set up a time for you to come in and tell us about your case. If you need us to, we can come to your home or hospital room for the appointment. There’s no charge until your case is settled or a judgment is entered, so don’t put off talking to a lawyer about your situation.