Limitation on Pursuit of Prevailing Wage Law Claims

Workers for a waste disposal company with municipal contracts were not paid prevailing wages, as required by the Massachusetts prevailing wage act. They filed suit for those claims under both the prevailing wage act (PWA) and the Massachusetts wage act applicable to all employers.

Under the wage act (WA), individual corporate officers can be personally liable if the company fails to make proper payments to employees. There is no similar right under the PWA, at least for non-construction employees who are to be paid prevailing wages.

The issue for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court was – can these employees use the WA to pursue PWA claims? The answer is no.

The court noted that both wage laws provide for a private right of action, i.e., employees can pursue their employers for violation of the law. But the court also noted a distinction in the remedy available. The SJC held that both laws could be reconciled, and fully enforced, using the distinct rights of action in each law. On the other hand, if PWA rights could be enforced under the WA, then the private right of action provisions under the PWA would be superfluous.

Students of statutory construction may want to read this decision, as the SJC artfully parses the issue of construing and interpreting each statute, when there is overlap in content and coverage of the laws, but the terms are not identical.

The outcome was clear, though, that the prevailing wage law claims could be pursued under the PWA, but not under the wage act (WA) applicable to employers both private and public. The case is Donis v. American Waste Services, LLC, 2020 Mass. LEXIS 333 (July 21, 2020).