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Failure-to-rehire suit avoids dismissal

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


A Massachusetts Institute of Technology office manager who alleged that he was told he was being terminated because his position was being eliminated could proceed with retaliation claims based on a failure to rehire — even though he never applied for job openings at the school that allegedly matched his former duties, a U.S. District Court judge has determined.

Plaintiff Thomas Cafarella was a 14-year employee at MIT before he was let go on Feb. 4, 2022. The plaintiff alleged that MIT told him he was being terminated due to “a lack of work resulting in the elimination of [his] position.”

Less than one month later, MIT posted a job opening that allegedly matched his former job. According to the plaintiff, a manager at MIT told him that he was not suited for the position, so he never bothered to apply for the job.

The plaintiff further alleged that, in early 2023, a former colleague told him the school was going to post another job for which he was qualified. MIT allegedly filled that job without ever posting it.

In 2023, Cafarella sued MIT in state court, alleging claims for age discrimination and retaliation in violation of state and federal law.

With respect to retaliation, the plaintiff alleged that the school refused to rehire him because he had filed a Wage Act claim and complained about age discrimination at the time of his termination.

MIT removed the case to federal court and filed a partial motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s retaliation claims.

According to the school, Cafarella’s retaliation claims were foreclosed under circuit precedent requiring as a predicate that a plaintiff actually applied for the jobs that he was allegedly denied.

In denying MIT’s motion to dismiss, Judge Indira Talwani explained that the rule cited by the school was not categorical and that the facts alleged by the plaintiff warranted recognizing an exception in his case.

“With regard to the position posted in March 2022, Cafarella alleges that he discussed the position with MIT but did not apply after MIT ‘made it clear it did not believe [Cafarella] was suited for the role,’” Talwani wrote. “Cafarella also contends that MIT changed its long-standing posting practice when it filled a position he was qualified for without posting it. While neither of these circumstances fits squarely in the general framework, the court finds the allegations sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss here where Plaintiff claims that MIT knew he was interested in a position, discouraged him from applying to one position and then changed its usual practice to not post the other.”

In addition, the judge denied MIT’s motion to strike allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint based on statements made by representatives of the school during settlement negotiations, in particular the proposal of a settlement term specifically prohibiting the plaintiff from pursuing employment opportunities at the school in the future.