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Kun v. Kindercare Education LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 6, 2017

GINA KUN, Plaintiff,
v.
KINDERCARE EDUCATION LLC, f/k/a KNOWLEDGE UNIVERSE EDUCATION, LLC, a/k/a MERITOR ACADEMY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT KINDERCARE EDUCATION LLC'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Dkt. No. 5)

          DONALD L. CABELL, U.S.M.J.

         Defendant KinderCare Education LLC[1] (KinderCare) terminated longtime employee plaintiff Gina Kun in 2015 over her handling of two separate workplace matters. Kun contends in a two-count complaint that her termination violated Massachusetts public policy. (Dkt. No. 1). The defendant moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim; the plaintiff opposes the motion. (Dkt. Nos. 5, 8). For the reasons explained below, the motion to dismiss is ALLOWED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         Accepting the allegations in the complaint as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff began working for KinderCare in 1991. (Compl. ¶ 3). As of January 2000, and at all relevant times thereafter, she held the title of Director. (Compl. ¶ 4). KinderCare ultimately fired the plaintiff over her handling of two separate matters, one occurring in 2013 and the other around 2015. (Compl. ¶ 6-13).

         Regarding the 2013 incident, one of Kun's duties was to perform annual background checks on KinderCare employees. (Compl. ¶ 5). In or around November 2013, she initiated a background check on an employee by making an inquiry with the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC). (Compl. ¶ 6). The EEC responded that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) had reported a finding of physical abuse against the employee. (Compl. ¶ 7). State law requires that an employee receive an “additional review” where such a finding has been made.[2]

         On December 6, 2013, the plaintiff notified the EEC in writing (as required) that the employee wished to undergo the additional review process. (Compl. ¶ 8). The plaintiff then conducted the additional review with the employee, pursuant to 606 CMR 14.00. (Compl. ¶ 9). After conducting the review, the plaintiff decided to keep the employee. (Id.).

         Regarding the 2015 incident, the plaintiff in or about December 2014 learned of an allegation that a child had been left unattended in the KinderCare facility for a brief period of time. (Compl. ¶ 10). The plaintiff promptly investigated the matter and determined that the circumstances did not rise to a level that would otherwise require her to report the matter to DCF pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws (M.G.L.) chapter 119, section 51A.[3](Compl. ¶ 10-11).

         KinderCare subsequently learned of these two incidents in January 2015, in the course of conducting an internal audit. (Compl. ¶ 12). On February 24, 2015, KinderCare terminated the plaintiff based on her handling of each incident. KinderCare determined that the plaintiff had failed to follow corporate policies and expectations regarding background checks of existing employees in connection with the 2013 incident, and had neglected to follow reporting and/or investigative procedures relative to incidents of alleged abuse and/or neglect occurring at the school in connection with the 2015 incident. (Compl. ¶ 13).

         KinderCare failed to ever provide any training or education to the plaintiff relative to handling matters like these. (Compl. ¶ 14-15). Similarly, the plaintiff was unaware of the existence of any corporate policies bearing on how KinderCare employees should handle matters like these. (Compl. ¶ 16-17).

         B. The Complaint

         The complaint asserts two common law claims for wrongful termination, arising from the 2013 and 2015 incidents, respectively, but it could be clearer in articulating the specific reason why the plaintiff contends she was fired.

         Regarding Count One, the narrative paragraphs preceding the actual count assert that KinderCare terminated Kun because she failed to follow corporate policies and expectations that she did not know of, and which may not have even existed. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-17). However, Count One itself alleges that Kun was terminated in retaliation for acting in “full compliance” with state law. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-21).

         The same is true regarding Count Two; the narrative paragraphs assert that Kun was fired for failing to follow corporate policies but Count Two itself alleges that she was terminated for acting in “full compliance” with state law. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-17, 23-24). Count Two also appears to allege that KinderCare fired the plaintiff because it “falsely concluded that she had not investigated the allegation” of a child having been left unattended. (Compl. ¶ 23). Giving the plaintiff the benefit of the ambiguity, the Court will read both counts as alleging wrongful termination based on (1) the plaintiff's purported failure to comply with internal rules and regulations, and (2) retaliation against the plaintiff for having correctly followed Massachusetts law in her handling ...


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