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Remote work and choice of law: Discrimination claim survives dismissal

A new court case offers a reminder to employers that it may not be so easy to get out from under employee-friendly provisions, even if their employees are far from the state in question.

In Wilson v. Recorded Future, Inc., et al., the defendants sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims under the Fair Employment Practices Law as well as the Massachusetts Wage Act. The defendants argued that Massachusetts did not have the “most significant relationship” to the employment of the plaintiff, a Virginia resident.

They also argued that Virginia, not Massachusetts, was the “locus” of the plaintiff’s relationship with his employer and that his alleged contacts with Massachusetts were insufficient to establish that Massachusetts regulations applied.

But the plaintiff countered that he communicated regularly with employees located in his employer’s Massachusetts office, traveled to Boston to perform his job duties, and that the decisions at issue in the case had been made in Massachusetts.

That was enough for the discrimination claim to survive dismissal, U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani found.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff neither lived in Massachusetts, nor did he or his supervisors work primarily out of the Massachusetts office. The plaintiff also did not service Massachusetts customers or hold himself out as being based in Massachusetts. In addition, neither the plaintiff’s offer of employment nor his compensation plan provided for the application of Massachusetts law, the defendants added.

But Talwani noted that there is no requirement that the plaintiff reside or work in Massachusetts to be afforded the Wage Act’s protections.

For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, it was sufficient that the plaintiff had often interacted with leadership and employees, regularly received support for the company’s sales tools from employees, and from “time to time” attended required training in Massachusetts, the judge found.

Attorneys say that they expect to see this sort of preliminary litigation battle over choice of law to arise with greater frequency, given the rise in remote work that has persisted beyond the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.