The Law @ Work

Maxing Out at the MCAD

A recent MCAD decision awarding a former Office Max employee over one million dollars has raised a lot of eyebrows.

After a lengthy public hearing, an MCAD Hearing Officer concluded that Janice Switzer, an experienced office supplies sales professional, was terminated because she was a woman who would not accept being treated differently than her male peers.

While employed with Office Max, Switzer was paid less than her male counterparts.  This prompted her to repeatedly complain, but to no avail.  As a result, she contended that she was bypassed for training and networking opportunities, that she was not properly compensated for her role in garnering new business, and that she was singled out for criticism that her male counterparts did not have to endure.

When time came to reduce the workforce, Switzer was selected for layoff.  She argued that the selection criteria used was designed to ensure that she was selected for termination rather than her two male counterparts. The hearing officer accepted Switzer’s version of events and awarded Switzer almost $600,000 in backpay and lost benefits and over $650,000 in front pay based on Switzer’s testimony that she would have worked until her retirement at 66 years of age.  The hearing officer also awarded $300,000 in emotional distress damages even though Switzer’s treating psychiatrist said she was doing fine, that she had a history of depression unrelated to her work history, and that she experienced the loss of her parents after her termination, which presumably contributed to whatever emotional distress she had experienced after her termination.

When interest (at 12%) and attorney’s fees are assessed the total damage award will likely exceed two million dollars, an amount that far, far exceeds the typical damage award at the MCAD.  A company spokesperson for Office Max was reported to say that an appeal is to the Full Commission is likely.  We are watching this case closely and will keep you posted on further developments.

The case is MCAD & Janice Switzer v. Office Max, Incorporated, Docket No. 07-BEM-00737, 2012 WL 4846337.

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