Baker-Polito Administration Awards $3.7 Million in Grants for Clean Energy Technology

On November 1, the Baker-Polito Administration awarded $3.7 million in grants to increase the adoption of cost-saving clean energy technologies by Massachusetts low-income residents as part of the Commonwealth’s Affordable Clean Residential Energy Program (ACRE).

Launched in April of this year, the ACRE program evolved out of the Administration’s $15 million Affordable Access to Clean and Efficient Energy (AACEE) Initiative, which focuses on coordinating the agencies that serve the energy and housing needs of Massachusetts’ low- and moderate-income residents. The Initiative’s goal is to increase the number of renewable technologies employed by low-income, single-family homes throughout the Commonwealth. To that end, an AACEE working group published a report last year highlighting recommendations to address barriers to clean energy investment by the state’s low-income residents. These recommendations, which included maximizing clean energy market growth in the low-income housing community and structuring clean energy incentives to better serve low-income residents, have served as a guidepost for the Initiative and its suite of programs.

Through ACRE, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) is awarding $2 million to Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), a non-profit human services organization helping low-income residents in the greater Boston region transition from poverty to stability. ABCD will assist in the installation of air-source heat pumps and solar photovoltaic systems, weatherization, and energy efficient lighting as well as appliance replacement for qualifying single-family homes with reported incomes below 60 percent of the State Median Income.

Energy Futures Group, an expert consulting services organization focused on the design and evaluation of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, will receive the remaining $1.7 million of the Administration’s funding and will focus their efforts on Western Massachusetts residents living below 80 percent of the State Median Income.

The ACRE program will give low-income homeowners access to renewable technologies, allowing these households to reduce energy costs without out-of-pocket investment. In addition to helping mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, the expanded use of energy efficient appliances benefits all Massachusetts’ ratepayers. By increasing the affordability and accessibility of these technologies, Massachusetts continues to affirm its role as a leader in clean energy generation and the fight against climate change.

This post was written by Sahir Surmeli of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. All Rights Reserved.,©1994-2017
For more Environmental & Energy legal analysis, go to The National Law Review 

High Time for Massachusetts Employers to Consider a Marijuana Use Policy

All employers should maintain an employee handbook or similar policy statement that clearly sets out the employer’s position on drug and alcohol use. While federal laws relating to marijuana possession and use have not changed, many states have revised their statutes to legalize, decriminalize, or otherwise permit marijuana possession and use. This has caused some confusion for employers, who must balance the conflicting state and federal rules.

Over thirty states have enacted legislation allowing marijuana use in certain situations. In some states (California and Massachusetts, for example), medical and recreational use is permitted.  In many other states, such as Connecticut and Rhode Island, only medical use is permitted.  A number of states have also adopted legislation that specifically protects marijuana users from termination from employment based solely on a positive test for marijuana.

Massachusetts does not have such a statute. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued a ruling that greatly complicates the issue of how to deal with an employee who is using marijuana. In Barbuto vs. Advantage Sales and Marketing (July 17, 2017), the SJC ruled that an employee who had been terminated as a result of a positive marijuana test could bring a claim for handicap discrimination under the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute.  In Barbuto, the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant, who had a valid prescription for marijuana to help in treating Crohn’s disease.  After the employee was terminated because of a positive marijuana test, she brought a claim against the employer alleging, among other counts, a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation under the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute.  The trial court dismissed all of the employee’s claims.  On appeal, the SJC upheld the trial court’s dismissal of most of the claims, but held that the employee could bring a claim under the anti-discrimination statute for disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate.  The SJC then reversed the dismissal of that count and sent the matter back to the trial court.

The SJC was careful to point out that employers could limit or defeat such claims by showing that allowing marijuana use would cause an undue hardship on an employer’s business, such as where the permitted use would conflict with other requirements like the Federal Drug Free Workplace Act. The SJC also clearly stated that Massachusetts law does not require any employer to permit on-site marijuana use as an employee accommodation. Even with those limitations, however, the Barbuto ruling does create some landmines for employers.  Massachusetts employers should become very familiar with the marijuana laws applicable in all states in which they have employees, and should enact employment policies consistent with those laws (which may differ significantly from state to state).  In addition, employers should consider and adopt (and consistently apply) policies that address how a positive test is handled (including addressing any reasonable accommodation issues).  For now, in Massachusetts, an employer will need to show how accommodating an employee’s medically prescribed marijuana use creates an undue hardship on the employer, and employers wishing to prohibit all marijuana use will need to be able to show this.

This post was written byMark J. Tarallo of Murtha Cullina.

Read more employment law news at the National Law Review.

Massachusetts Sets Energy Storage Target

On June 30, 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) announced that Massachusetts would adopt an aspirational 200 megawatt-hour (MWh) energy storage target to be achieved by January 1, 2020. The target is the second largest in the nation, although it is far lower than California’s 1.3 gigawatt storage mandate. Still, Massachusetts’ storage target will make the commonwealth a leader in the burgeoning energy storage field.

The process of setting storage targets began last summer, when Massachusetts enacted a law directing DOER to determine whether to set targets for electric companies to procure energy storage systems by January 1, 2020. In September 2016, Massachusetts released a report called the “State of Charge,” which recommended the installation of 600 megawatts (MW) of energy storage by 2025. The report predicted that 600 MW of storage could capture $800 million in system benefits to Massachusetts ratepayers. The energy storage industry praised the 600 MW level as a good starting point.

DOER’s “aspirational” 200 MWh by 2020 target falls short of the “State of Charge” recommendation, but leaves the door open to achieving 600 MW by 2025. DOER’s letter announcing the target noted that “[s]torage procured under this target will serve as a crucial demonstration phase” for Massachusetts to gain knowledge and experience with storage. “Based on lessons learned from this initial target,” the letter continues, “DOER may determine whether to set additional procurement targets beyond January 1, 2020.”

Beyond DOER’s storage target, Massachusetts has a broader Energy Storage Initiative, which includes a $10 million grant program aimed at piloting energy storage use cases and business models in order to increase commercialization and deployment of storage technologies. DOER also announced that it will examine the benefits of amending the Alternative Portfolio Standards, an incentive program for installing alternative energy systems, to expand the eligibility of energy storage technologies able to participate. While Massachusetts’ storage targets are not as lofty as some in the industry were hoping, the commonwealth is demonstrating a clear commitment to developing its energy storage industry beyond the few megawatts currently installed.

This post was written by William M. Friedman of  McDermott Will & Emery.

Banning Salary History Questions, Subway Restaurant Partners with DOL, Non-Competes: Employment Law This Week – August 15, 2016 [VIDEO]

Massachusetts Bans Salary History Question

Subway, DOL, Pay EquityOur top story: Beginning in 2018, pay history will be off limits for Massachusetts job applications and interviews. In a unique attempt to close the gender wage gap, the state has passed a pay equity law that will bar employers from asking applicants about their previous salaries. Employers will also be prohibited from seeking that information from an applicant’s prior employers. While this provision is the first of its kind in the country, the new law also contains more common equal pay protections, broadens the definition of “equal work,” and prevents employers from banning the discussion of salary among employees. Mickey Neuhauser, from Epstein Becker Green, has more.

“The hope is that by taking the salary history question off the table, employers will rely only on relevant factors and won’t even unconsciously rely upon an irrelevant factor, such as the employee’s prior salary. . . . The law does not prohibit applicants from disclosing their current salaries or salary history, and it doesn’t prevent applicants and employers from negotiating over salary. However, the law does not protect employers from paying a salary lower than what would otherwise be permitted under the act simply because an individual has agreed to accept that salary. In other words, an employee cannot agree to be illegally underpaid.”

Subway Partners with the DOL

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Subway teamed up to break new ground. The world’s largest fast-food franchisor has reached a voluntary agreement with the DOL to provide wage and hour compliance training to franchisees. The agency conducted more 800 investigations into underpayment of workers at Subway franchises in recent years. This partnership will focus on helping the franchises comply with federal wage and hour laws moving forward. While the DOL hopes to enter into more agreements like this one, franchisors are hesitant, noting that the deal could make them joint employers under the National Labor Relations Board’s standard.

New York Attorney General Cracks Down on Non-Competes

New York’s crackdown on non-compete agreements continues. An investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman revealed that Examination Management Services Inc. required all of its workers, even those who had no access to trade secrets or sensitive information, to sign non-compete agreements. Non-compete agreements in the state are usually permissible only for employees with a high level of access to trade secrets or sensitive information. Under the agreement, the company will stop using the non-competes for most employees in New York.

Citigroup Unit Pays Misclassified Workers After DOL Probe

A Citigroup affiliate shells out a hefty sum for misclassifying workers. A subsidiary of Citigroup in Florida recently paid almost $2 million to workers whom it had misclassified as exempt from overtime pay. An investigation by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division found that the company mistakenly applied the Fair Labor Standards Act’s exemption to a group of 882 employees. This case serves as a reminder that salaried workers are not necessarily exempt from overtime.

Tip of the Week

Lisa Glass, Chief Human Resources Officer for The Child Center of NY, is here with advice on how to create an effective onboarding program.

“An important way organizations can help combat employee turnover and help employees adjust to the new organization is through an effective onboarding program. An onboarding program allows employees to understand the expectations of their role in terms of performance as well as social expectations. . . . Effective onboarding is key in creating employee expectations and sharing organization values. The goals must align with the goals of the organization, and the program initiative must be driven by senior management, and not solely driven by human resources.”

©2016 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.

Groundhog Day: Declaring Impending Death of Massachusetts Noncompetes

or the last three years, we have reported on legislative efforts to ban noncompetes in Massachusetts. You can see a sample of those reports here and here. Thus far none of those efforts have been successful. Here again in 2016, legislative efforts to ban noncompetes promise to continue in Massachusetts, with one commentator declaring, “This is the year.”

Our job as business lawyers is to advise clients on how widely varying state laws affect their ability to use noncompetes, then they can make their business decisions from there. Different businesses take very different views on noncompetes, as those seeking to ban them in Massachusetts have learned. Therefore, our job does not drive any particular policy position on noncompetes. However, I have observed that opponents seem quick to share stories about stories about seeming extreme noncompetes (certainly they exist but good luck enforcing them) and/or declare noncompetes’ ongoing decline (they’re not) and/or say they have a negative impact on the economy (I’m still waiting for proof of what the impact may be, pro or con) – none of those things always supported by facts and data.

The above-linked commentator has “heard” that noncompetes have prevented 19 year olds from switching employment at summer camps. I have not seen that, directly or indirectly, and it seems that it would be difficult even in a pro-enforcement state like Ohio to enforce such a noncompete. But it certainly makes a nice story, even if it may jeopardize the support of the summer camp trade association for the legislation.

The commentator also talks about the “stifling effect” noncompetes have on the Massachusetts economy, though I do not see any data supporting that conclusion. I am no economist either, but my first result in a Google search lists Massachusetts as the 6th best economy among states in the last quarter of 2015. Just think how highly the state would be ranked if its economy were not stifled.

Maybe this is the year for Massachusetts; we will see. In any event, we will continue to watch developments by state, some of which will be pro-enforcement and some of which will not, and keep you posted on how it affects your businesses.


Massachusetts Appeals Court Ruling: Contractor Justified Not Paying Subcontractor That Refused To Perform Work

The general contractor on a public demolition project paid nothing to a subcontractor that had performed the majority of its work but refused to perform work that it claimed was outside of its scope of work. The subcontractor sued the general contractor and after cross-motions for summary judgment the Superior Court sided with the general contractor, holding that the work in dispute was within the subcontractor’s scope and that the subcontractor breached the subcontract by refusing to perform the work. The Superior Court also held that the subcontractor was not entitled to be paid for the work it did perform because it had not substantially performed its obligations under the subcontract. The subcontractor appealed, and the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision. Acme Abatement Contractor, Inc. v. S&R Corporation, No. 2014-P-257, 2015 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 855 (Aug. 20, 2015). Click here to view the Appeals Court decision.

Contracting Background

S&R Corp. (“S&R”) was awarded a demolition contract by the Town of Weymouth (the “Town”). Part of S&R’s work included the demolition of concrete bleachers adjacent to an athletic field. S&R subcontracted the asbestos abatement work to Acme Abatement Contractor, Inc. (“Acme”). Among other things, Acme was required to remove asbestos containing paint from the bleachers prior to demolition.

Scope Dispute Arises

After Acme had commenced work, it informed S&R that it would remove paint only from the side walls of the bleachers but not the risers because Acme believed that paint did not contain asbestos and, therefore, was not within its scope. S&R directed Acme to the project specifications and identified the contract language that it believed clearly required Acme to remove the riser paint. Despite this language, Acme claimed it did not have to remove the riser paint and even went so far as to have the riser paint tested, which test results came back negative for asbestos. Even though tests performed after the subcontract was signed and work had commenced showed that the riser paint did not contain asbestos, the subcontract language included the risers within Acme’s scope and Acme “owned” that work. Nevertheless, Acme refused to remove the riser paint.

Acme performed the remainder of its obligations and then abandoned the project without removing the riser paint. S&R was forced to engage a substitute contractor to remove the riser paint because the project schedule was in jeopardy and S&R faced the prospect of being assessed liquidated damages by the Town if it did not complete the project on time. S&R did not issue payment for any of Acme’s work, even the two-thirds of the subcontract work that Acme performed, on the ground that Acme had materially breached its subcontract.

Subcontractor Sues and Contractor Wins Summary Judgment

Acme brought suit against S&R seeking $145,000 in damages for breach of contract and quantum meruit. Acme also sought treble damages and attorneys’ fees under M.G.L. c. 93A, for a total of damages in excess of $450,000. Both parties eventually moved for summary judgment. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in S&R’s favor finding that: (1) the subcontract required the removal of the riser paint; (2) the subcontract required that Acme perform the disputed work under protest and that Acme’s failure to do so was a material breach of the subcontract; (3) Acme had failed to provide required closeout documents; and, (4) Acme could not recover under quantum meruit for the work it did perform because it did not substantially complete its subcontract obligations.

Subcontractor Appeals

Acme appealed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, which affirmed the Superior Court’s decision in S&R’s favor. Rather than address whether the removal of the riser paint was within Acme’s scope, the Appeals Court held that Acme breached the subcontract by not performing the disputed work as required by the subcontract. The relevant language provided:

Click here to continue reading…

© Copyright 2015 Murtha Cullina

Troubles for Massachusetts Town’s Wind Turbine

Beveridge & Diamond PC environmental and energy law firm

In the long-running dispute between the Town of Falmouth and the neighbors to the Town’s wind turbine that powers the municipal wastewater treatment facility (WWTF), score one for the neighbors. The Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the decision of Barnstable Superior Court Justice Robert C. Rufo in Drummey v. Town of Falmouth, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 127 (2015), finding that the Town was required to obtain a special permit from the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals to install the wind turbine on Town land.

Claiming harm from sound pressures and noise from the turbine’s operations, the plaintiffs first sought the building commissioner’s enforcement of the Zoning Bylaw. They alleged that the town violated the Bylaw by failing to secure a special permit for the turbine’s construction and maintenance. The building commissioner denied their request. The plaintiffs appealed to the ZBA and the Superior Court, both of which affirmed the building commissioner’s ruling.

Notwithstanding that the Bylaw provides that a petitioner may apply for a special permit to construct a windmill, the Superior Court found that this provision did not “apply in the limited circumstance where the Town itself desires to construct and operate a windmill for municipal purposes in a district where all such purposes are permitted as of right.” The Court explained that the turbine was a “municipal purpose” that fell within the enumerated community service uses permitted as of right in the Bylaw, which includes: “All municipal purposes, including the administration of government, parks, playgrounds, recreation buildings, Town forests, watershed, water towers and reservoirs, beaches, fire and police stations and armories.” Although turbines were not expressly included in the list of municipal purposes, the Superior Court found the list to be illustrative and not exclusive.

On appeal, the Appeals Court first recited the rule of law that the interpretation of a town’s bylaw raises a question of law. As such, the Court “reviews the judge’s… interpretations of zoning bylaws, de novo[anew or afresh].” It remarked that, as in other districts of the Bylaw, windmills were specifically designated in the public use district as an accessory use by special permit. Therefore, it logically followed that windmills could not have been intended to fall within the list of more general municipal uses allowed as of right. While the Superior Court’s understanding of the non-exclusive nature of the list was accurate, the Appeals Court found that that characterization of the list “did not adequately consider the weight that must be given a specific by-law provision that has been drafted to take into account the public welfare.” Specifically, the Bylaw included “a comprehensive scheme” for wind turbines including controls on their placement and impact on the town. In effect, the lower court erroneously reviewed the key Bylaw provision in isolation, not in context as the law requires.

The Court vacated the judgments of the Superior Court and remanded the case to the Superior Court for entry of new judgments consistent with its opinion. The Town has filed an application for further appellate review, which is pending before the Supreme Judicial Court.