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Firm defeats summary judgment motion in employment case

Christopher O’Hara recently persuaded a Massachusetts Superior Court judge to reject a company’s summary judgment motion in an age bias lawsuit seeking compensation under the Massachusetts Wage Act and other damages.

The defendant, which develops and sells software to large institutions, terminated the firm’s client in December 2019 purportedly because he didn’t meet a quarterly sales quota, even though he met his annual sales targets during his three-year tenure with the company.

The firm’s client asserts that his compensation plan entitles him to an unpaid sales commission related to a large sale he made in 2018.  The company counters that it had complete discretion whether to award the commission, based on provisions in the plan related to splitting commissions among several employees based on contributions to a sale.

In rejecting summary judgment, the Superior Court judge wrote that the “central problem with [the company’s] argument … is that there is zero evidence in the record that it relied on those provisions in deciding to pay [the firm’s client] only a partial commission.” 

Instead, the company simply decided not to pay the commission and dared the firm’s client to sue if he was unhappy with that decision, the judge found.

She also denied summary judgment on the client’s age bias claim, finding sufficient evidence in the record of the company’s bias against older employees – including remarks by the CEO at an internal meeting of company executives just a few months before the client’s termination that the company was seeking “young, bright” sales professionals to get “fresh blood” on the sales team.

Rather than a “stray remark” as argued by the company, the CEO’s statements, according to the judge, could be construed by a reasonable jury as corporate policy and a preference for young sales professionals.

The judge also found that sufficient evidence in the case would allow a reasonable jury to infer that the company’s stated reason for terminating the client was pretextual.