Recent case Donis vs. American Waste Services, LLC SJC (2020) decided which of two applicable laws govern when an employer shorts workers’ wages.

FACTS The employer of trash collectors was required to pay predetermined ‘prevailing’ wage rates and like all employers, they were obliged to pay workers according to the rules of the Wage Act.

  • The Wage Act (GL c 149 § 148) applies broadly; it exposes corporate officers and managers to personal liability.
  • The Prevailing Wage Act (GL c 149 § 27F) is a comprehensive set of rules setting wage rates but it only applies to specific work (usually public work).

The employee brought claims under both acts to recover for pay shortages (but alleged no other basis for Wage Act recovery). Plaintiffs sought and received a real estate attachment, a preliminary injunction and accounting.

Neither law claimed to be the only remedy for wage shortages.

ISSUE    Where an employer fails to pay the required prevailing wage, and violates the Wage Act, how are damages measured? Are individual corporate officer’s liable?

HOLDING

The Prevailing Wage law includes a unique cause of action and claims under it, have to use that process. The Wage Act can compliment this where the two don’t conflict but Prevailing Wage Law process governs those sorts of claims.

The Prevailing Wage Law doesn’t allow corporate officers to be personally liable for violations, so in this case they were not.

REASONS

The two laws concerning wages are structured very differently.  The Court wanted to interpret them together in this situation to preserve the lawmakers’ intent. The Wage Act applies to all wages. The Prevailing Wage Law sets minimum payments to some workers only when it applies – primarily Public Works projects.

Each Act provides that workers can sue violators.  The Wage Act has a longer statute of limitations and only the Wage Act makes corporate officers personally liable.

Since the only claims were for violations of the Prevailing Wage Act and since that has specific rules for limited situations, that law governed over the Wage Act.  

Court warns – don’t violate the statutory interpretation cannon against superfluidity (Don’t read it to be superfluous).

COMMENT – Search ‘wage act” on this website – lots of Wage Act case reports. Courts read this law to favor workers and punish violating employers.