Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell filed a brief urging the Court of Appeals to reverse a decision that said that franchisees were not employees of the franchisor.
BOSTON — Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell’s Office has filed an amicus brief with the U.S Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case Patel v. 7-Eleven,urging the court to reverse a decision that misinterprets the Massachusetts statute that protects employees from being misclassified as independent contractors.
In the brief, the AG’s Office argues that Massachusetts has a compelling interest in ensuring the proper interpretation of state laws governing wages and hours for workers, including the independent contractor statute, which prohibits the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. The AG’s Office argues that the District Court was incorrect in dismissing 7-Eleven franchise owners’ claims that they are employees of 7-Eleven. In the brief, the AG’s Office writes that the District Court misconstrued the threshold inquiry of the independent contractor statute, which establishes a presumption that a worker who “performs any service” for an employer is an employee. The AG’s Office argues in its brief that, if upheld, the District Court’s interpretation would harm workers and complicate the AG’s Office’s enforcement of the independent contractor statute and other statutory protections for workers.
“When employers misclassify their employees, they create an unfair playing field for law-abiding businesses, cheat state and federal governments out of revenue, and keep workers from accessing the benefits and protections they are entitled to under the law,” said AG Campbell. “My office is urging the First Circuit to reject the District Court’s narrow interpretation of the law and recognize that proper classification of employees protects workers and stabilizes our economy.”
The independent contractor law states that all individuals “performing any service … shall be considered to be an employee,” unless employers can demonstrate that the work is done without the direction and control of the employer, is performed outside the usual course of the employer’s business, and is performed by someone who has their own independent trade or business. This is commonly referred to as the “ABC test”. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors denies workers basic protections under the Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws including guaranteeing they are paid the state minimum wage and that they have sick time.
In the brief, the AG’s Office argues that the District Court misconstrued the phrase “perform any service” by focusing on whether the employer performs services for the worker, rather than on whether the worker performs services for the employer. The AG’s Office also argues that “in accordance with the plain-text reading of [the independent contractor statute], courts do not construe the phrase ‘perfor[m] any service’ to impose an onerous burden on plaintiffs alleging misclassification”, and that under the statute, the employer bears the burden of proving each prong of the ABC test.
The AG’s Office has long championed the rights of workers across Massachusetts. Last month, the Office issued citations, totaling $70,000, against a pool repair and lifeguard service company over various wage and hour violations, including the intentional misclassification of employees as independent contractors. In September 2022, the AG’s Office issued citations against a cleaning company, for over $65,000 for state labor violations, up to and including wrongly misclassifying employees as independent contractors. The AG’s Office also has an ongoing lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, arguing that drivers are employees under Massachusetts Wage and Hour laws.
A copy of the brief in full can be found here.
This matter was handled by Deputy State Solicitor Julia Kobick, Assistant Attorney General Douglas Martland of the AG’s Constitutional and Administrative Law Division, and Assistant Attorneys General Peter Downing and Kate Watkins of the Fair Labor Division.