PEABODY — It was, according to her lawyer, her “dream job,” working as a nurse in the orthopedics department at Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the top medical facilities in the country.
The hospital “aggressively pursued” Kehle Osborne-Trussell. She was called in for multiple interviews, and the hospital called references and did a background check before it offered her a job in February 2019.
She was given an employee badge and a start date of March 18, 2019.
But a couple of weeks before the former Peabody woman was to report for her first shift, the job offer was rescinded.
The reason why remains unclear. But it came shortly after a Gloucester woman who had been ordered by a court to stay away from Osborne-Trussell posted disparaging comments about her on social media, and “tagged” Children’s Hospital so that the hospital's administrators would see it.
Osborne-Trussell had obtained a harassment prevention order against the woman a few months earlier, in 2018, after a judge found that the Gloucester woman had stalked, threatened and harassed her multiple times.
When Osborne-Trussell saw the post, she reached out to the hospital to tell them about the harassment order, and that she was notifying police about the violation.
In response, a human resources employee told Osborne-Trussell that he intended to call the other woman “to hear her side of the story.” Days later, Osborne-Trussell received a letter withdrawing the offer.
Now, the state’s highest court is considering the question of whether Osborne-Trussell can sue under a state law aimed at protecting victims of abuse from losing their jobs if they have to take time off to pursue restraining orders or other measures to protect themselves.
The case also exposed a potential gap in the state’s Abusive Behavior Leave Act, a 2014 law that allows an employee to take up to 15 days of leave if they or a family member are victims of abuse.
The law covers employees of businesses with more than 50 employees.
But lawyers for Children’s Hospital say that Osborne-Trussell was not yet an employee. They also contend that the law doesn’t apply unless an employee specifically asks for time off to deal with an abuse situation.
Last year, a Suffolk Superior Court judge agreed, dismissing the case. Osborne-Trussell appealed. The SJC decided to take up the case, which raises significant public policy concerns, and solicited "friend of the court" briefs from organizations interested in the outcome.
Her lawyer, Michael Mason, called the situation an "unacceptable loophole" in the law if allowed to stand.
One of the reasons legislators passed the 2014 law was to prevent abusers from interfering in a victim's work — a common means of control, Mason argued.
And the idea of calling a stalker or an abusive spouse or partner "just defeats the whole purpose of the law," he said.
During arguments before the SJC last week, the hospital's attorney, Richard Riley, suggested that Osborne-Trussell was not an employee when the job offer was rescinded, but that even if the court finds she was, she was "at-will," meaning the hospital could fire her for any reason.
Riley also argued that Osborne-Trussell never formally requested time off.
And he went on to suggest — though there is no evidence so far of whether something the stalker said led to the hospital withdrawing the job offer — that an equally compelling "public policy" argument is that the hospital should have "an escape hatch" in certain situations.
Riley argued that given the population the hospital serves, it should be able to make a determination not to bring someone in if there's "more to the story," such as doubts about someone's character.
"But we don't have those facts," Justice Scott Kafker pointed out.
Mason also questioned whether the hospital's call to the Gloucester woman was a form of violating the harassment order, though that issue was not specifically before the court.
Children's Hospital did not respond to emails seeking comment on the matter or its decision to contact the defendant in a harassment order violation case.
The SJC is being asked to vacate the dismissal and allow the case to go to trial. A decision is expected within three to four months.
Harassment orders are granted when an applicant can show evidence that someone has, on at least three occasions, intentionally caused fear, intimidation, or serious harm to someone or their property. They were created in part due to a gap in the law that covers domestic abuse restraining orders, which were not available to people who had never dated someone but who had been harmed or stalked by that person.
After the Facebook post was discovered in February 2019, the Gloucester woman was charged with violating a harassment prevention order. She later admitted to sufficient facts in the case, which was continued without a finding, a type of pretrial probation, for 2 1/2 years. The order also remains in effect.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.