Attorney Fired for Taking Parental Leave Must Arbitrate Discrimination and Termination Claims

A Maine attorney allegedly fired for taking parental leave must take his case to arbitration. A First Circuit judge decided that the language of an offer letter to the attorney required arbitration of his discrimination and wrongful termination claims.

Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP (“Preti”) hired Bryan O’Brien as an associate in 2017 to work at its Portland office. O’Brien alleges that the firm drastically reduced O’Brien’s workload and eventually fired him in 2018 after he made consecutive requests for parental leave after the birth of his two daughters. Preti claims it fired O’Brien for poor performance.

O’Brien filed a civil lawsuit in January 2021 after filing complaints in July 2019 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination that were unsuccessful. O’Brien is representing himself.

O’Brien alleged that Preti violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by terminating him. However, the district court dismissed the lawsuit and referred O’Brien’s claims to an arbitration panel. Judge Richard G. Stearns ruled that the employment claims were subject to the arbitration provision in the offer letter O’Brien received from the firm.

In his First Circuit appeal, O’Brien claimed that Preti misstated the scope of a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision, Warfield v. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to conclude that the language of the offer letter met a legal bar to force arbitration of his discrimination claims. O’Brien argued that the district court’s reliance on the firm’s misstated law amounted to a clear error that should be overturned on appeal. The attorney also claimed that the lower court dismissed the case too quickly, rather than simply staying the proceeding until the arbitration played out as required under the Federal Arbitration Act. 

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