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BOSTON —� A law requiring mandatory triple damages in wage and hour cases became law in Massachusetts earlier this week without Governor Deval Patrick’s signature. Wage and hour cases were already on the upswing before the legislation took effect on April 14, and more filings are sure to follow, said McDermott, Will & Emery Boston partner Jeffrey Webb, who typically represents management. Although Massachusetts state courts generally interpreted a prior state law as requiring triple damages in wage and hour cases before a 2005 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision, Webb said there’s already been a change in the litigation climate that the law will exacerbate. “The difference between now and 2004 is that there’s been a real increase in the amount of wage and hour class actions that have been filed, and Massachusetts [now] becomes three times as interesting as it was the year before,” Webb said. In the 2005 Supreme Judicial Court decision, Associate Justice Roderick Ireland ruled that “the plain language of the statute does not require a judge to award treble damages.” Wiedmann v. The Bradford Group Inc., 444 Mass. 698 (2005) “We decline to create such a requirement and conclude that such an award is in a judge’s discretion,” Ireland wrote. Patrick’s office declined to comment on the law and said the governor submitted recommended changes before the bill was passed. In a Feb. 21 letter to the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives, Patrick expressed concern that mandating treble damages in all cases “is unfairly punitive” and he recommended amendments giving judges discretion for damages against employers who provide evidence that they acted in good faith. Patrick’s proposed amendments would allow judges to award no damages or any amount up to three times the lost wages and benefits, overtime pay or loss of minimum wage. “Treble damages can be a significant penalty, especially in cases involving multiple plaintiffs, and such damages are neither warranted nor fair in every case, particularly in situations where the wage and hour issues may be complex and uncertain and where an employer relies, in good faith, on the advice of counsel and guidance received from governmental authorities,” Patrick wrote. Employment plaintiff’s lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan, of Boston’s Pyle, Rome, Lichten, Ehrenberg & Liss-Riordan, said the law is necessary because it’s very expensive, time consuming and difficult for employees who have not been paid all of their wages to take their employers to court. “My experience is that truly innocent employers will resolve cases early and wont actually pay triple damages,” said Liss-Riordan. Besides leveling the playing field for employees, the law also protects Massachusetts businesses who play by the rules, said Liss-Riordan. “Without this kind of hammer keeping unscrupulous employers in line, it’s difficult for complying companies to compete,” said Liss-Riordan.

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