Appeals Court February 21, 2012
Facts: Megiel-Rollo was a teacher at Bristol County Agricultural High School (Bristol) between 1982 and 2002. In 1994, she filed a complaint against Bristol with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Four years later, Bristol and Megiel-Rollo entered into negotiations for settlement of the MCAD claim wherein the parties agreed that upon execution of the settlement, Megiel-Rollo would be placed on paid leave of absence for eight months. During the leave of absence, Megiel-Rollow would receive health insurance benefits, contractually accrued sick leave benefits, and retirement credits. The settlement agreement provided that Bristol would forward a letter of termination to her, which would be effective within five days of its mailing. She was also to receive a cash payment of $54,760.49 and never again enter the grounds or building. Megiel-Rollo agreed to the aforementioned agreement.
Shortly after the execution of the settlement agreement, Megiel-Rollo applied for termination allowance under G.L. c. 32, s 10(2). When TRS requested information from Bristol concerning Megiel-Rollo's termination, Bristol responded that she had been terminated in order to resolve litigation. TRS then denied Megiel-Rollo's application for a termination allowance and she was instead awarded superannuation benefits under G.L c. 32, s 10(1).
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Procedural History: Megiel-Rollo appealed the denial of termination allowance to CRAB, which held a hearing, and the denial was affirmed. Her objection with CRAB was also affirmed on the basis that her departure was voluntary. On appeal, the Superior Court Judge vacated CRAB's decision, based upon his own definition of discharge which the court referred to as “some action on the part of the employer to terminate the employee[']s employment.” Accordingly, the judge held that Bristol had terminated Megiel-Rollo's employment by means of the notice of termination and that she was therefore discharged within the meaning of G.L. c. 32, s10(2). Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) appealed from the Superior Court's judgment.
Issue: Whether the Superior Court erred in its decision to vacate CRAB's decision that Megiel-Rollo voluntary terminated her employment and was therefore not eligible for termination allowance?
Yes. The court did not agree with the Superior Court's reasoning that because Megiel-Rollo received a letter of termination, it effectively discharged her for the purposes of s10(2), therefore making her eligible for termination allowance. Rather, the difference between the provisions of s10(1) and s10(2) indicates that a member who has twenty or more years of credible service who “resigns or voluntarily terminates his service” can only retire under the provisions of s10(1). The court agreed with CRAB in that the terms “removed or discharged” refers to only that which was done involuntarily. Voluntary termination or resignation of an employee can only retire under the provisions of s10(1), and therefore would only be eligible superannuation benefits.
The court added that public policy reasons exist to discourage the grant of a s10(2) retirement allowance for terminations negotiated in the context of such a settlement agreement. For example, in future settlement negotiations that arise between employees and their public employers, there is a danger that the parties would add a term to the settlement providing a termination letter, even where the employee did not have a reasonable expectation that he or she would be fired or where termination would not have otherwise occurred. Providing a termination letter may provide for the employee higher retirement benefits than he or she may have otherwise received.
Judgment: Judgment of the Superior Court vacated and Contributory Retirement Appeals Board decision affirmed. (MW)