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Court issues verdict on employee misclassification

According to employer-side attorneys, a recent Massachusetts verdict in favor of an employer in a misclassification case should bring comfort to employers who contract with “legitimate” businesses for independent contractors’ services.

But plaintiffs’ side employment attorneys say that they hope that the plaintiff seeks further review to clarify whether the verdict will have precedential effect.

In the case of Weiss v. Loomis Sayles & Co., Inc., et al., the employer used the services of the plaintiff, a software engineer.

The employer had contracted with a large information technology staffing firm, which in turn contracted with the plaintiff’s preexisting consulting company.

After the plaintiff had worked alongside its employees for three years, the employer abruptly terminated the relationship, prompting the plaintiff to file suit alleging a violation of the state’s independent contractor statute, G.L.c. 149, §148B.

The jury’s verdict ultimately hinged not on its assessment of the three prongs of §148B, but on a preliminary issue pushed by the defense throughout the case: whether the plaintiff could establish standing.

The first question on the verdict form asked: “Did [plaintiff] provide services to [defendant] through a legitimate business?”

When the jury answered yes, the questions about whether the employer had misclassified the plaintiff and how much he was owed in unpaid benefits became moot.

But if the plaintiff seeks further review, he may argue that the jury was asked the wrong question.

During a trip to the Appeals Court earlier in the proceedings, the plaintiff argued that the “proper focus is on whether a putative business-to-business relationship is ‘legitimate’ within the specific context of section 148B, which is a fact-specific inquiry.”

In other words, a business can have illegitimate relationships with otherwise legitimate businesses.

The plaintiff went on to argue that the case illustrates precisely what an illegitimate relationship might look like: An employer wants to secure a specific individual’s services but does so by creating an arrangement to make an “end run” around the independent contractor statute.

If this decision is assessed by another court on appeal, it is possible that court could rule the other way.