Tag Archive for: Greater Boston Legal Services

Many workers unaware law gives them paid sick time (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from an August 10 article published by the Boston Globe calling attention to a critical time off medical safeguard for Massachusetts residents. Greater Boston Legal Services’ Staff Attorney David McKenna is quoted.


Mirta Barillas had worked for an industrial laundry in Haverhill for 17 years when the company stopped giving her time off for frequent migraines. After missing numerous shifts in early 2022, she was eventually put on unpaid leave for five weeks to recover, she said — with only a few days of paid vacation to make up for lost wages.

The human resources manager then told her she could only come back if she stopped calling in sick, Barillas said, and when she produced a doctor’s note stating that the migraines could continue causing her to miss work, she was fired.

Massachusetts has a safeguard for workers who need to take time off for medical reasons or to care for a family member, guaranteeing them up to 26 weeks of paid time off, in addition to employer-provided sick days, funded through a payroll tax and issued by the state. But more than two years after benefits were launched in January 2021, many workers still aren’t aware of their rights, and some companies are punishing them for taking time off for health or family reasons.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

Massachusetts’ system for migrant families seeking shelter approaches its breaking point (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from a July 13 article published by GBH discussing a recent policy change for migrants seeking shelter at Boston Medical Center. Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) Housing Division Staff Attorney Liz Alfred is quoted.


Boston Medical Center changed its policy of serving as an ad-hoc safe harbor for migrants last week. Some local officials and advocates say they saw that change coming.

Monique Tú Nguyen, executive director of Boston’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, told GBH News that city officials had worried that the hospital would not be able to sustain its efforts as demand on the state’s emergency assistance system kept increasing.

“We were aware that they would have to start turning people away if it compromises their operation,” said Nguyen. “But we weren’t sure of the timeline of when they were going to start that.”

Read more at GBH.

State finds Boston Public Schools transportation issues violated students’ right to special education services

In a March 1 article, The Boston Herald reported on an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that determined Boston Public Schools had violated students’ rights to special education services. Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children filed a joint complaint about the issue on behalf of several families last year. An excerpt of the article is below.

In a letter sent to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper on Friday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said an investigation found the district’s transportation issues violated students’ rights to special education services.

“The findings in the preceding sections of this letter indicate that the District did comply with some of its obligations under federal and state requirements,” DESE officials wrote in the letter.

Several families issued a joint complaint with Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children in October, outlining incidents in which the district failed to provide students with one-on-one and specially trained bus monitors, families notification of transportation issues, or just any transportation at all — in effect denying the students their right to a free appropriate public education.

In many of these incidents, “students’ families are required to (provide transportation), causing financial and other burdens,” the letter states, and systemic failures have “deprived many students of their education due to ongoing absences and late arrivals resulting from lack of or delayed transportation.”

The state reviewed parent reports of bus issues in the last year, finding 3,469 coded “Missed Stop,” 775 “Late Bus,” 736 “Stranded Student,” 721 “Bus Monitor,” 597 “Other,” and 236 “Blown Route” or “Uncovered Route.”

In the fall of the 2022-23 school year, an average of 16.4% of buses were still dropping off students late or not at all, the letter states.

These wide-scale issues had an especial impact on students with disabilities, the investigation found, including the “key deficiency” of bus monitors.

“The District reported that approximately 35–40% of monitor-required routes have not had a designated monitor assigned to the route during the 2022-2023 school year,” the letter reads.

Read more in The Boston Herald.

Lawsuit alleges racial discrimination in tenant screening tool (CommonWealth Magazine)

CommonWealth Magazine recently reported on developments in the Louis vs. SafeRent Solutions case. An excerpt of the article is below. The plaintiffs in this case are represented by attorneys from Greater Boston Legal Services; the Washington, DC-based firm Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll; and the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center.

Two Black women from Massachusetts are at the center of what could become a landmark federal case about whether software that screens potential tenants is illegally biased against Black and Hispanic applicants.

Rachael Rollins, the US attorney for Massachusetts, weighed in on the case, Louis vs. SafeRent Solutions, in a court brief this week, arguing that the technology used by tenant screening companies must comply with anti-discrimination rules. “Algorithms are written by people. As such, they are susceptible to all of the biases, implicit or explicit, of the people that create them,” Rollins said in a statement. Rollins said her filing “recognizes that our 20th century civil rights laws apply to 21st century innovations.”

SafeRent Solutions is a company used by landlords to screen potential tenants. SafeRent gives rental applicants a risk score based on their credit history, other credit-related information including non-tenancy debts, and eviction history.

Read more at CommonWealth Magazine.

Advocates question conditions at shelter for migrants and families experiencing homelessness (WBUR)

Adam Hoole, a senior paralegal at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), and Liz Alfred, a staff attorney at GBLS, were quoted in a Dec. 15 article by WBUR. Below is an excerpt of the article.

Showers in a tent outdoors. Dozens of cots lined up in tight rows. A chilly draft blowing all night. These are some of the conditions alarming advocates at a new facility set up to help families with children who are experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts.

State officials opened the temporary shelter and intake center in Devens earlier this week to help manage a spike in new immigrants and families seeking assistance.

Some of the factors driving the rise in homelessness include record-high housing prices and an increase in families arriving after fleeing violence in places like Haiti and South America.

The temporary facility, at the Bob Eisengrein Community Center, is intended to ease the strain on municipal services, nonprofits and the state’s family shelter system – or Emergency Assistance shelter – which is already at capacity.

Read more at WBUR.

Three hour wait, three days in a row: Massachusetts shelter hotline leaves some families desperate (WBUR)

A Nov. 22 WBUR article quoted Greater Boston Legal Services attorney Liz Alfred on the difficulties families face accessing the Massachusetts family shelter system. Alfred helped a mother—recently-evicted and a survivor of domestic violence—and her child find a room at a state-run shelter, and commented on the conditions that make the system challenging to navigate. An excerpt from the article is below.

Frustrated and feeling desperate, Paula turned to Greater Boston Legal Services. A staff attorney there, Liz Alfred, emailed her contacts at the state’s shelter program. Within an hour, Alfred said they found a place for Paula and her daughter.

Unlike the system for single adults who don’t have housing, which is primarily run by nonprofits, the family shelter system in Massachusetts is run by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). There are a few nonprofit family shelters, but most families with children receive services through the state. Experts say a state-run shelter system like this is highly unusual.

The phone line troubles Paula encountered have become the norm, Alfred said. During the pandemic, the state closed field offices and directed families to apply for shelter by phone. Program staff continue to instruct people to use the hotline.

“Pre-COVID, you could go into the office, and you could sit there all day,” Alfred said. “But at least if you were there with your suitcases and your kid, there is some way that DHCD understands that they need to deal with you.”

Read more at WBUR.

‘I’m at my wit’s end’: Welcome to the underbelly of the region’s housing crisis (The Boston Globe)

Attorneys Zoe Cronin of Greater Boston Legal Services and Rochelle Jones of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, both pictured above, were featured in a Nov. 12 Boston Globe article for their work representing people in housing court in the aftermath of COVID eviction moratoria expiring.

An excerpt of the article is below.

Criminal court proceedings where the defendant faces possible prison time guarantees the right to a defense lawyer, but there is no such safety net for housing court. This means that many tenants who can’t afford a lawyer are battling potential eviction by taking it upon themselves to duel with polished attorneys representing landlords.The tenants often struggle to navigate the complexities of housing law and courtroom procedure. Louis is one of the lucky ones. She has legal representation: Zoe Cronin from Greater Boston Legal Services.

Many tenants are not so fortunate.

As of the end of October, there were 15,556 residential eviction cases brought this year in Massachusetts for non-payment of rent. Those cases include 21,629 defendants, the vast, vast majority of whom are defending themselves without a hired attorney. (Nearly 97 percent are pro se.) By contrast, only about 12 percent of landlords who bring forward eviction cases do so without a lawyer to represent them, according to statistics from the Massachusetts Trial Court.

Volunteer lawyers help both pro se tenants and landlords craft motions or offer representation during a mediation session, and, in some cases they offer full representation. The “lawyer for a day” program sets up shop outside a bank of courtrooms on the fifth floor. Many tenants, said Rochelle Jones, the housing and appeals staff attorney for the Volunteer Lawyers Project, struggle to articulate and defend themselves, to explain to the court what is happening in their living situation.

“The legal system is complicated, it’s complex,” she said.

Read more in The Boston Globe.

For labor trafficked immigrants, T-visas are a life-saving but flawed relief (GBH News)

Two legal aid attorneys—Caddie Nath-Folsom of the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, and Audrey Richardson of Greater Boston Legal Services—were quoted in an Oct. 24 GBH News article about barriers labor trafficked immigrants face to obtaining T-visas. These visas are a pathway to legal residency for survivors of severe trafficking who cooperate with an investigation into the trafficking.

Below are excerpts from the article.

Caddie Nath-Folsom, a staff attorney with the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, says application forms have gotten much longer and the government doesn’t have the capacity to cope with the volume of paperwork.

“The biggest challenge survivors are having right now is the unbelievable delay and processing of these applications,” she said.

Beyond these barriers, many immigrants simply don’t know about the T-visa, or find out years after they were subjected to labor trafficking.

“It’s both that people don’t necessarily know about it, but it’s also that identifying cases as being appropriate for [T-visas] and having folks who would be able to take advantage of it come forward are difficult things,” said Audrey Richardson, managing attorney of the Greater Boston Legal Services’ Employment Law Unit, which works with survivors to secure visas.

Read more at GBH News.

State launches investigation into Boston Public Schools transportation, special education (Various outlets)

The state of Massachusetts has launched an investigation into whether Boston Public Schools is violating the educational rights of students with disabilities, following a complaint filed on Oct. 14 by Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Greater Boston Legal Services, and several other organizations on behalf of the families of six students. The complaint called on BPS to address the impact of its transportation problems on students with disabilities, students of color and those who speak other languages.

Below are excerpts from the news coverage.

The Boston Globe (Oct. 25):

Jakira Rogers, who leads the racial equity and access program at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, said she and other group representatives met Monday with Skipper and district administrators from BPS’s special education and transportation office.

“The complaint was a follow-up, really after the long systemic issue has really blown up and families are struggling with transportation,” Rogers said, emphasizing the unreliability creates barriers to special education support and services and hinders parents’ ability to maintain employment.“Transportation is just not about school buses, it’s about access to education, and access to a free and appropriate education. That’s what all students deserve, and that’s what we will continue to fight for until we get there.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

WCVB (Oct. 25):

Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children wrote in their complaint that the transportation system is continuing to fail students and their families.

“The long-standing non-compliance with DESE’s monitoring and failure to improve the transportation system continues to have widespread negative impacts on Boston students and families,” advocates wrote in the complaint. “This school year, students are not receiving appropriate or consistent transportation services. Parents are being forced to pick up and drop off their children, experiencing weeks without consistent transportation for their children. Students with disabilities, who may require door-to-door transportation, bus monitors, or other accommodations, are not receiving these special education services to address their specific needs. Buses are failing to pick students up on time, to drop them off at school on time, and to get them home on time. Parents are not receiving prompt, accurate notifications of issues with transportation services. Some families are receiving last-minute notice of changes to transportation services, not receiving notifications at all, or are not receiving any communications in the language of the home.”

Read more from WCVB.

Boston.com (Nov. 10):

Special education students, and especially those who are not white, are disproportionately impacted by the transportation system’s failures, said Jakira Rogers, a program lead at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. The organization, along with Greater Boston Legal Services, filed the aforementioned complaint with state officials. 

“Those in power… must address the exclusion of Black and Latinx students within Boston Public Schools. When I say ‘exclusion,’ I’m referring to the multiple ways in which Black and Latinx students with disabilities are pushed out of schools and away from their education,” Rogers said. “It’s not a secret who inadequate transportation disproportionately impacts.”

The problems are larger than just buses being late, Rogers said. When students miss school time because of transportation issues, they are being denied their legal right to a free public education, and some special education students are missing hours of learning time on a regular basis, she added. 

Read more from Boston.com.