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Runyon v. Wellington Management Company, LLP

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 20, 2015



DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Frederick L. Runyon ("Runyon") filed this lawsuit against Defendants Anne Mahoney ("Mahoney"), Stephen Klar ("Klar") (collectively, the "Individual Defendants") and Wellington Management Company, LLP ("Wellington") (together with the Individual Defendants, the "Defendants") alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and Mass. Gen. L. c. 151B ("c. 151B"). D. 21. Runyon also alleges that Defendants fraudulently induced him to execute a general release of his claims. Id . The Individual Defendants have moved to dismiss the claims against them.[1] D. 23. For the reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion.

II. Standard of Review

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must determine if the facts alleged "plausibly narrate a claim for relief." Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012). "[T]he plaintiff need not demonstrate she is likely to prevail" at this stage, only that her claims are facially plausible. García-Catalán v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 102 (1st Cir. 2013). To state a plausible claim, a claim need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must recite facts sufficient to at least "raise a right to relief above the speculative level... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This determination requires a two-step inquiry. García-Catalán, 734 F.3d at 103. First, the Court must distinguish the factual allegations from the conclusory legal allegations in the complaint. Id . Second, taking Runyon's factual allegations as true, the Court should be able to draw "the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . (quoting Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011)).

When deciding a motion to dismiss, the First Circuit has "emphasize[d] that the complaint must be read as a whole, " and that circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to surpass the plausibility threshold. Id . At bottom, a claim must contain sufficient factual matter that, accepted as true, would allow the Court to draw "the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . (citation omitted). However, "[i]n determining whether a [pleading] crosses the plausibility threshold, the reviewing court [must] draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id . (internal citations omitted). "In this process, the fact that the plaintiff filed the complaint pro se militates in favor of a liberal reading." Rodi v. S. New England Sch. Of Law, 389 F.3d 5, 13 (1st Cir. 2004) (citing Boivin v. Black, 225 F.3d 36, 43 (1st Cir. 2000) (explaining that "courts hold pro se pleadings to less demanding standards than those drafted by lawyers")).

III. Factual Background

The following facts are alleged in the amended complaint, D. 21, and are taken as true for the purposes of this motion.

Runyon has worked in the field of graphic design since 1980. D. 21 ¶ 6. In 1998, at the age of forty-six, Runyon began working at Wellington as Assistant Vice President, Design Manager. Id . ¶ 8. Runyon was responsible for developing the design and communication materials Wellington used to target clients. Id . ¶ 9. Runyon also worked on the design and execution of internal materials and managed a staff of Wellington designers, establishing best practices, evaluating performance and making staffing decisions. Id . In 2003, Runyon was recognized for his performance and promoted to Vice President. Id . ¶ 11. Runyon was promoted again in 2006 to a newly created position - Vice President, Corporate Design Manager. Id . ¶ 12. As a result of this new position, Runyon's responsibilities and salary increased significantly. Id . In his new position, Runyon supervised the design of all of Wellington's communication materials, including web, print, multimedia and video materials. Id . During his time at Wellington, Runyon never received a performance review indicating that his skills were lacking or that his job performance was inadequate. Id . ¶¶ 21-24.

In 2008, Wellington reorganized and the company underwent a reduction in force. Id . ¶ 13. Although Runyon's responsibilities were not affected by this restructuring, Runyon's supervisor changed and Runyon began reporting to the Manger of Editorial Services, Brian Johnson. Id . In 2009, Johnson's supervisor left the company and Johnson began reporting to Anne Mahoney. Id.¶ 15.

In 2010, Runyon met with Johnson "to discuss workload and to determine what responsibilities might be delegated to [Runyon's] staff." Id . ¶ 17. At this meeting, Johnson suggested that one of Runyon's staff members might be reluctant to take on new responsibilities because of her age. Id . ¶ 18. The employee was over fifty-years old at the time. Id . ¶ 19. In another meeting later that year, Johnson made similar comments to Runyon about another one of his employees who was over fifty-years old. Id.

In June 2011, Runyon was called into an unscheduled meeting with Johnson, his direct supervisor, and Mahoney, his indirect supervisor. Id . ¶ 20. Mahoney told Runyon that his position was being eliminated and that he was being terminated. Id . Wellington offered Runyon a separation agreement, which included a severance payment in exchange for the release of legal claims. Id . ¶ 29. Under Wellington's severance policy, "job elimination" is one of the eligibility requirements for a severance offer. Id . ¶ 30. Runyon's severance package was consistent with the standardized formula contained in Wellington's policy, and Runyon considered the offer to be nonnegotiable. Id . ¶¶ 32-33. At the time of his termination, Runyon was fifty-nine years old. Id . ¶ 25.

Runyon relied on Mahoney and Johnson's representation that his position had been eliminated in deciding to sign the separation agreement. Id . ¶ 48. Wellington did not provide Runyon with the names of other employees who were terminated in the same group and who were also asked to sign severance agreements. Id . ¶ 46. Three months after Runyon's June 2011 termination, Wellington hired Betsy Salsman as Corporate Design Manager. Id . ¶¶ 63-64. Salsman's job title, responsibilities and experience "do not differ from [Runyon's] in any meaningful way." Id . ¶ 78; see also id. ¶¶ 74-77. Furthermore, a number of Runyon's staff members, who were ...

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