Published on: May 5, 2015
Whether you work or live in a community association, a situation could arise where you believe that you are a victim of harassment. Massachusetts has enacted a law, G.L. c. 258E, which: (1) provides protection to victims of stalking, sexual assault, and criminal harassment that is unavailable under the domestic abuse prevention law, G.L. c. 209A; and (2) makes violations of these orders punishable as a crime. Unlike the domestic abuse prevention law, which adjudicates proceedings for parties which have a relationship with the person committing the abuse (e.g. relatives and members of a household), a relationship between the parties is not required to qualify for a G.L. c. 258E harassment prevention order.
Over the years, I have seen situations wherein board members and property managers have been compelled to obtain a G.L. c. 258E harassment prevention orders in matters involving terminated employees who return to the workplace causing intimidation to the remaining employees, and damage to company property. I have also see other situations which have resulted from a disgruntled board member and unit owner who have damaged common area property or harassed other board members and property managers placing such individuals in fear of being harmed. In each of these situations, due to the fact that no relationship existed with the perpetrator, the only option of seeking protection was to pursue a civil harassment prevention order from the courts.
In order to obtain a c. 258E order, a person must file a civil complaint and supporting materials in the appropriate court requesting that an order be issued to protect the person from such harassment. These matters can be brought before a judge on short notice or immediate temporary orders can be obtained if it is demonstrated that there is a substantially likelihood of immediate danger of harassment. A plaintiff must show that the defendant engaged in at least three (3) willful and malicious acts, and that for each act the defendant intended to cause fear, intimidation, abuse, or damage to property; or an act that by force, threat or duress causes another to involuntarily engage in sexual relations. G.L. c. 258E, § 1.
The typical relief sought includes one or more of the following orders requiring the defendant to: (i) refrain from abusing or harassing the plaintiff; (ii) refrain from contacting the plaintiff; (iii) remain away from the plaintiff’s household or workplace; and/or (iv) pay the plaintiff monetary compensation for the losses suffered as a direct result of the harassment. Any relief granted by the court shall not extend for a period exceeding one (1). A plaintiff can seek to extend the order if necessary.
While the proceedings regarding obtaining G.L. c. 258E harassment prevention orders are civil in nature, violations of any order issued are criminal, thus giving some teeth to a civil order. Any violation of a Chapter 258E Order shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by imprisonment for not more than 2.5 years in jail, or both. In addition, civil contempt proceedings are available to enforce harassment protection orders. The Statute further provides that “[l]aw officers shall use every reasonable means to enforce such harassment prevention orders.” G.L. 258E, § 9. Having a harassment protection order in hand provides substantial evidence to any law enforcement officer who is called to a scene regarding harassment, as law enforcement agencies have established procedures ensuring that an officer on the scene of an alleged violation of such an order may be informed of the existence and terms of such an order.
Being familiar with this protective statute can be useful for board members and property managers faced with a situation where you believe that you are a victim of harassment. This statute has been enacted to provide additional protections to victims who do not have relationships with their harasser and unlike most civil actions, no filing fee is required in order to file an action seeking relief. Also, an action commenced under this chapter shall not preclude any other civil or criminal remedies. It is there solely to provide an extra layer of protection for those unfortunate situations that may arise.
If you find yourself in a situation as discussed above, you should seek the advice of counsel.