The lawsuit, filed Friday with the Supreme Judicial Court, accuses the Trial Court of missclassifying the majority of interpreters as private contractors in order to pay them less and breaching the terms of their contract by unilaterally changing the payment standards that have been in place since 1998. It calls for the court to classify per-diem interpreters as state employees and order the Trial Court to pay them damages for lost wages.
“It seems that all of our efforts to be part of the solution with the Trial Court — and be part of what they’re trying to reform and improve — has gone unanswered,” said Norma Rosen-Mann, president of MACI, adding “we had no redress in any other way.”
In a brief statement, Trial Court spokeswoman Erika Gully-Santiago said that the department is aware of the lawsuit.
“The Trial Court’s Legal Department today received the petition and is requesting representation by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office,” she said.
The dispute between interpreters and the court system comes after more than a decade of warnings from the Trial Court’s chief justices and top administrators that severely inadequate funding is jeopardizing the justice system.
The Trial Court currently employs 27 staff interpreters based at courthouses around the state and around 180 per-diem interpreters who are classified as private contractors.
The per-diem interpreters are barred from taking on other work on days when they are on call for court-related interpreting. In recognition of that handicap, their contract with the Trial Court states that they will be paid set rates for either half-days or full-days of work, even if they are not actively interpreting for four or eight hours.
In their lawsuit, The per-diem interpreters, represented by MACI, say that beginning last year the Trial Court stopped paying some of them based on set rates of $200 for a half day of work and $300 for a full day of work and switched to an hourly system with no notification.
In the lawsuit and in a separate complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, which The Sun reported on in August, the per-diem interpreters also accuse the Trial Court of causing delays in cases involving non-English speakers because the department is attempting to cut down on the number of interpreters it pays on any given day.
“We feel that aside from being misclassified we have been mistreated and undermined,” Rosen-Mann said. “And the people who are most affected are the people who don’t speak English.”