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Dexter v. Dealogic, LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 26, 2019

ALLISON DEXTER, a/k/a ALLISON DEXTER-GALVIN, Plaintiff,
v.
DEALOGIC, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Hon. Patti B. Saris Chief United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Allison Dexter brings this civil action against her former employer, Defendant Dealogic, LLC (“Dealogic”), to challenge her termination in March 2018. She alleges that Dealogic retaliated against her after she raised concerns with senior executives about the quality of the company's product and its deceptive marketing. She also claims Dealogic terminated her because she became pregnant and discriminated against her on the basis of gender by requiring her to sign a noncompetition agreement as a condition of her severance package. Finally, she alleges that she endured a hostile work environment due to her gender. She raises a host of statutory and common law theories in her six-count complaint.

         After hearing, the Court ALLOWS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Dealogic's motion to dismiss (Docket No. 23).

         BACKGROUND

         The following factual background comes from the complaint and attached exhibits and must be taken as true at this stage. See Newman v. Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc., 901 F.3d 19, 25 (1st Cir. 2018).

         Dexter, a woman in her early thirties, resides in Cohasset, Massachusetts. She has worked in sales and marketing since graduating from college. In 2015, two business contacts asked her to work as a sales executive at their new company, A2 Access. They had developed a platform for private equity firms and wanted Dexter to help build relationships with firms around Boston. She accepted the offer.

         Before Dexter began the job, A2 Access was acquired by Dealogic, a London-based company offering a financial markets platform to financial firms. On September 28, 2015, Dexter agreed to become a sales executive in Dealogic's Boston office. Her employment with Dealogic was at will. She began the position in January 2016. Around this time, certain unspecified senior executives at Dealogic questioned her hiring, as well as that of another Boston-based female sales executive, saying that they were likely to “get married, have kids and leave the Company.” Dkt. No. 22 ¶¶ 18-19 (“FAC”). The complaint does not explain how or when Dexter learned of this comment but notes that the other female sales executive informed human resources about it when she left the company.

         During her orientation, Dexter realized the product she would be promoting was not as complete as Dealogic had told her when they were discussing her potential employment. Nevertheless, she pitched the product to investment institutions in Boston throughout 2016. She made some sales, but Dealogic was unable to deliver a product that performed as promised. Customers therefore began to cancel their orders.

         On December 17, 2016, Dexter met with Teri Hawksworth, Dealogic's global head of sales and coverage. Hawksworth asked Dexter why she was unable to “land big investors” in the Boston area. FAC ¶ 30. Dexter explained that the ongoing problems with the product were hurting its marketability and sales. Hawksworth had not previously been aware of these problems. Two days later, John Dunchick, Dealogic's chief business development officer, learned of Dexter's meeting with Hawksworth and admonished Dexter that “it was bad for [her] career to highlight product concerns to senior executives.” FAC ¶¶ 31-32 (alteration in original). Still, Dexter earned an overall score of 3.2 out of 5.0 in her January 2017 annual performance review, which was considered “Solid Performance: good work, meeting expectations.” FAC ¶ 33. She received a number of positive comments, including that her “work this year [was] going to pay off.” FAC ¶ 34.

         Throughout 2017, while Dexter refused to misrepresent the capabilities of the company's product to prospective clients, she frequently observed other Dealogic personnel making false statements about the product's functionality. For example, Dunchick and Michael Muniz, the global head of sales and account management, provided false information about nonexisting product capabilities during a sales pitch to one of Dexter's business contacts in April 2017. Dexter threatened to report them to senior executives but did not do so. Shortly thereafter, Hawksworth and Muniz told Dexter she was being reassigned from her sales executive position to an account management role. The new position involved lower pay and a different bonus structure based strictly on her ability to retain clients. Hawksworth explained that the company thought her strong business relationships would allow her to better retain clients in this new role. Dexter continued to feel uncomfortable with Dealogic's misleading statements about its product and made repeated attempts to raise the issue with management.

         In August 2017, Dealogic held a number of meetings to address its product issues. Afterwards, two sales executives who had spoken up about their concerns with the product were placed on performance improvement plans. Senior executives prohibited account managers from interacting with high risk clients to avoid communications that might trigger those clients to terminate their contracts with Dealogic. Despite her concerns about this new policy, Dexter received a 3.1 out of 5.0 in her January 2018 annual performance review, again showing “Solid Performance: good work, meeting expectations.” FAC ¶ 45. Because of her strong client retention rate, she earned a $12, 500 bonus for fiscal year 2017.

         Dexter learned in November 2017 that she was pregnant with her first child. In February 2018, she told Greg Young, the head of onboarding and her former manager, about her pregnancy. He reassured her she had continued job security with Dealogic. She told her other colleagues about her pregnancy the next month. Shortly thereafter, on March 21, 2018, Dunchick and Brianna Markey, the head of human resources, informed her she was being terminated as part of a reduction in force and there were no other positions available for her. Dexter alleges that Dealogic planned to rebrand the account management position with a new title and hire younger men who did not know about the product problems and would not leave to have children. Dealogic offered Dexter a severance package conditioned on her execution of a one-year noncompetition agreement. She rejected the severance package because of this condition. Two of Dexter's male colleagues who were let go around the same time, including Young, were not required to sign noncompetition agreements in exchange for severance.

         After receiving authorization from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Dexter filed suit against Dealogic in state court on February 11, 2019. Dealogic removed the suit to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. On May 15, 2019, Dexter filed an amended complaint narrowing her causes of action to six: retaliation (Count I), gender and pregnancy discrimination and hostile work environment in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, § 4 (Count II), wrongful termination (Count III), breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count IV), breach of oral contract/promissory estoppel (Count V), and civil conspiracy (Count VI). Dealogic has moved to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When faced with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must set aside any statements that are merely conclusory and examine only the pleader's factual allegations. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. A claim is plausible “when the plaintiff pleads ...


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