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Troopers sue Mass. State Police for allegedly taking seniority away from new parents

Seniority puts you first or last in line for choosing things like overtime shifts, assignments, and vacation time.

Five State Troopers filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against Massachusetts State Police for a policy they say is harming the careers of troopers who choose to have children or need to take medical leave, The Boston Globe reported.

The troopers claim that when they take parental or medical leave, they lose all seniority, making it hard for them to get the assignments, shifts, or vacation time they desire.

Seniority is based on a trooper’s rank in their graduating class at the academy. But the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Matthew Patton, told the Globe that when troopers take paid family or medical leave, their rank automatically drops to the bottom.

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“The disproportionate impact this practice has on women who have given birth, experienced a miscarriage, or other medical issues related to pregnancy is blatantly discriminatory,” Patton told the Globe.

One of the plaintiffs, Serena Trodella, gave birth on October 4, 2021. Patton told the Globe that on the first day of her leave, her seniority went from 112th in her class to 240th — the very bottom.

Massachusetts’s paid leave law, which took effect in January 2021, explicitly says that taking leave should have no effect on employees’ “advancement, seniority, length-of-service credit or other employment benefits.”

“It is a direct violation of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act for the State Police to take this seniority away when Troopers are once again making the personal sacrifice of caring for a loved one,” Patton told the Globe.

Patton added that State Police are also breaking the law by disallowing troopers from paying into their retirement plan during their leave, and by not counting their time off when calculating their years of service in determining their pensions.

Joao Christian Barros, who is the only male plaintiff in the suit, had planned to take time off to care for his newborn son last year, but decided not to after learning he would lose his seniority, the Globe reported.

Massachusetts

State Police policy is that troopers cannot speak to the media, but one trooper who recently took maternity leave agreed to be quoted in the Globe if she could remain anonymous.

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“It feels like I am being punished for having a baby and taking paid family medical leave that we are entitled to,” the trooper told the Globe.

She said the purpose of the law is “to be able to bond with your child and not have to worry about being able to pay your bills and if your job is going to be there in the same manner before you took leave.”

The four female plaintiffs have also filed sex discrimination complaints with the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination, the Globe reported.

In responses to two of the MCAD complaints, Special Counsel to the State Police Colonel Michael Halpin, told the Globe that the agency complies with all state laws and union contracts.

Halpin wrote that the agency knows of “no direct or disparate impact upon its female employees” and is “unable to identify a violation of law or any issue of concern, confusion, or error” that backs up the discrimination charges, the Globe reported.

Right now, there are five plaintiffs in the suit, but Patton hopes to extend the case to any trooper who was or may be harmed by the policy, the Globe reported.

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