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McLaughlin v. Central Falls Board of Trustees

Superior Court of Rhode Island

December 13, 2016

GEORGE T. MCLAUGHLIN
v.
CENTRAL FALLS BOARD OF TRUSTEES AND THE RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING

         Providence County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Jeffrey D. Sowa, Esq.

          For Defendant: Vicki J. Bejma, Esq. Bernard P. Healy, Esq.

          DECISION

          PROCACCINI, J.

         Before this Court is the appeal of George T. McLaughlin (McLaughlin) from a final decision of the State of Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (RIDLT), denying his complaint against the Central Falls Board of Trustees (Board of Trustees) for unpaid wages for work performed on November 9, 1995. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         McLaughlin filed a complaint against the Board of Trustees on October 29, 2014 for unpaid wages for work performed on November 9, 1995 under G.L. 1956 §§ 28-14-1 et seq. Administrative R., Ex. 1. McLaughlin contends that he started his job on Thursday, November 9, 1995. Id. The Central Falls School District (School District) argues that McLaughlin started his employment with the School District on Monday, November 13, 1995.[1] Id.

         The administrative record reflects that McLaughlin taught secondary English as a Second Language (ESL) for the School District starting in 1995. Administrative R., Ex. 2, Letter from Maureen Chevrette, Ed.D., Superintendent of Central Falls School District Schools, to Whom It May Concern (Feb. 14, 1997). In August 2014, McLaughlin was working with the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) to retire from his teaching position. Administrative R., Ex. 2, Email from Diane Bourne, Assistant Executive Dir., ERSRI, to George McLaughlin (Aug. 20, 2014, 12:36 EDT).

         On August 20, 2014, Diane Bourne (Bourne), the Assistant Executive Director of the ERSRI, wrote to McLaughlin that:

"It appears that the intent of Central Falls [School District] was to have you work and contribute for 135 days for the 1995-1996 school year and earn 1 full year of service credit. However, by ERSRI calculations, the wages paid to you for that year do not equal 135 days, but rather 134 days." Id.

         Bourne told McLaughlin that "[i]f that is, in fact the error, Central Falls will have to notify

         ERSRI of their miscalculation and arrange for payment of the cost of the additional wages (and contributions)." Id.

         McLaughlin responded two days later to Bourne. In that response email, he wrote:

"I discovered in July that the 'Service Credit Earned' for 1996 on my ERSRI online account had been changed . . . from one year (as it had posted for 18 [sic] years) to 3/4 of a year, while we were still trying to reach clarification regarding the length of service discrepancy." Administrative R., Ex. 2, Email from George McLaughlin to Diane Bourne, Assistant Executive Dir., ERSRI (Aug. 22, 2014, 12:44 EDT).

         McLaughlin went further in his email, saying that he believed that Central Falls was being "lethargic" or "seemingly intransigent" to his inquiries. Id. McLaughlin continued, saying that he was forced to push back his intended retirement date of June 30, 2014 because of the disagreement on start date. Id. He further added that as he was unable to retire on that date, he lost retirement compensation that he would have received during that summer. Id.

         Several more emails were exchanged between Bourne and McLaughlin. See Administrative R., Ex. 2. It was determined at the conclusion of the emails contained in the record that McLaughlin and the School District would need to determine the actual start date and whether there was an error. Administrative R., Ex. 2, Email from Diane Bourne, Assistant Executive Dir., ERSRI, to George McLaughlin (Aug. 26, 2014, 07:58 EDT).

         The School District took the position that McLaughlin had worked only 134 days of the school year. See Administrative R., Ex. 4. McLaughlin took action and filed a complaint via a "Non-Payment of Wages Complaint Form" and an accompanying letter from his attorney on October 19, 2014 with RIDLT. Administrative R., Ex. 1.

         The Board of Trustees was served with notice of McLaughlin's contention by RIDLT Chief Labor Standards Examiner, Helen G. Gage (Gage). Administrative R., Ex. 3. It appears that McLaughlin's complaint was initially dismissed by Gage in a letter from December 12, 2014. See Administrative R., Ex. 2; Administrative R., Ex. 5. McLaughlin's attorney sent a letter arguing that the RIDLT was required to reopen the case and consider equitable tolling principles. Administrative R., Ex. 2. Specifically, he argued:

"Mr. McLaughlin's reasonable belief that he had received wages for November 9, 1995 was reinforced by the District's misrepresentations and misleading silence. Prior to August 20, 2014, Mr. McLaughlin had no awareness or knowledge of any no-payment of wages, and therefore the 'discovery rule' works to delay the accrual of the statute of limitations on his claim." Id. (emphasis in original).

         Counsel for the Board of Trustees argued against the application of equitable tolling principles. Administrative R., Ex. 4. On April 23, 2015, RIDLT Assistant Director of Workforce Regulation and Safety, Joseph R. Degnan (Degnan), issued a decision stating that McLaughlin had failed to file his complaint with the RIDLT within the three-year statute of ...


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