The state Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the city of Malden violated the Massachusetts wage law by failing to pay almost $13,700 in vacation pay to an administrator fired from the McFadden Memorial Manor, a city-operated nursing home that closed in 2009.
Gary Dixon, administrator of the home for 23 years, filed a complaint in Superior Court, seeking payment for 50 unused vacation days. after he was terminated by the Malden Board of Health in 2007.
Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Billings dismissed the complaint, finding that while the city violated the state’s wage law, Dixon received $19,700 in additional pay and benefits until June 29, 2007. That amount was greater than his vacation pay, which totaled $13,614.56, according to the SJC findings.
But the SJC on Monday reversed Billings’s decision and sent the case back to Superior Court to award vacation pay, lawyers’ fees, and other legal costs to Dixon.
“The city’s payment of salary and benefits after [Dixon’s] termination, however, does not provide a substitute for payment of accrued vacation time,’’ the SJC wrote, noting that Dixon’s final paystub when his severance ran out in June 2007 shows 50 days of vacation time remaining.
Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the SJC, said it can take up to 30 days for a case to be sent back to a lower court. She declined further comment.
The SJC also found that a Malden city ordinance denying vacation pay to city workers who are fired from their jobs conflicts with state law and is not valid.
City solicitor Kathryn Fallon, who represents Malden in the case, did not return calls seeking comment.
Alfred Gordon, a Boston lawyer who represents Dixon, said in an e-mail: “Mr. Dixon and I are gratified both that the Supreme Judicial Court took up this case and that the court resolved what, to us, was a confusing directive from the trial court. The Legislature has made accrued vacation time an inseparable part of employee wages, and the court’s decision makes clear that an employer may not avoid its obligation to pay employees all of their outstanding wages in full on their last day of employment.
“In addition, we are pleased that the city of Malden has now admitted that its personnel ordinance requiring forfeiture of accrued vacation time is unlawful and hope that, in the future, the city and all other employers will heed the clear decision of the court that they must pay employees in a timely and appropriate manner.’’
Dixon did not return a message left at his Lynn home.
Richard C. Howard, who was the Malden mayor in 2007, said on Monday that he had hoped the SJC would uphold the lower court ruling.
“The other decision was based on the fact that we did pay him,’’ said Howard, now the town manager in Winchester. “We also said, though, that if it was determined he was owed the money, we would pay it.’’
Howard, the Malden mayor for 16 years, in 2009 closed McFadden Manor, then the last municipally owned nursing home in Massachusetts.
For years, the facility struggled to fill its 61 beds, despite high scores on state quality evaluations. The home also struggled with cuts to Medicaid reimbursements. A study found that McFadden, established as a poor farm in the 1800s, needed at least $1 million in repairs. It was closed in 2009 after the City Council voted not to fund a public authority set up to run the nursing home.
Dixon’s termination in 2007 came amid intense public debate over McFadden’s financial viability. There was no written settlement between the city and Dixon, the SJC ruling noted.
At the Superior Court trial, Howard testified that the city continued to pay Dixon “in an attempt to settle his claims,’’ according to the SJC court documents.
Dixon also sought triple damages, which is allowed under the state wage law. But he was denied because the SJC found the city did not act outrageously, a key criterion to determine if triple damages should be awarded in a wage complaint.