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Eaton v. Veterans Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 16, 2020

Laurel EATON, Plaintiff,
v.
VETERANS INC., Defendant.

Page 278

          Anne L. Josephson, Sarah-Elizabeth Cloutier, Kotin, Crabtree & Strong LLP, Boston, MA, for Plaintiff.

          John F. Welsh, III, Bello Welsh LLP, Boston, MA, for Defendant.

         ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Docket No. 16)

         HILLMAN, D.J.

         Laurel Eaton ("Plaintiff") filed this action against Veterans Inc. ("Defendant"), alleging defamation and tortious interference with contractual or advantageous business relations and seeking declaratory judgment invalidating her non-competition and non-solicitation agreement with Defendant. Defendant moves to dismiss her claims on privilege and mootness grounds. (Docket No. 16). For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion.

Page 279

          Background[1]

         Plaintiff earned her Master's Degree in Social Work from Boston College Graduate School of Social Work in May 2014[2] and began working for Defendant as a Grant Writer shortly thereafter. (Docket No. 13 at 2). On Plaintiff's first day of work, Defendant required Plaintiff to sign a non-competition and non-solicitation agreement (the "Non-Compete Agreement") that prevented her from "engag[ing] or assist[ing] others in engaging in any business or enterprise ... that is competitive with [Defendant's] business" in the two years following the end of her employment with the company. (Docket No. 13-1 at 2).

         As a Grant Writer, Plaintiff's primary responsibilities included researching, developing, and writing grant proposals to secure funding for Defendant's programs and projects. (Docket No. 13 at 2). Within months of her start date, however, Defendant began to assign Plaintiff additional responsibilities. (Docket No. 13 at 2, 4). Defendant, for example, asked Plaintiff to coordinate the development and licensure of a new inpatient treatment program; track and monitor grant applications; and assume some of her supervisor's duties. (Docket No. 13 at 5). To recognize her new responsibilities, Defendant promoted Plaintiff to the position of Program Development Coordinator on September 28, 2015. (Docket No. 13 at 5). It did not require Plaintiff to sign a new non-competition and non-solicitation agreement as a condition of her promotion. (Docket No. 13 at 5).

         Over the course of the next year, Plaintiff "began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with the working environment and financial management of Veterans Inc." (Docket No. 13 at 6). She decided to leave and, in the fall of 2016, accepted a job from Team Red, White and Blue ("Team RWB") as a Grant Manager. (Docket No. 13 at 6). Her last day with Defendant was October 5, 2016, and she began working at Team RWB on October 17, 2016. (Docket No. 13 at 7).

         Within a few days of starting at Team RWB, Plaintiff received a call from Defendant asking if it was true that she had accepted a position there. (Docket No. 13 at 7). Plaintiff confirmed that she had, and Defendant stated that it "takes non-compete agreements seriously." (Docket No. 13 at 7). During this call, Defendant "made no effort to inquire whether [Plaintiff] was in a position at [Team RWB] to use or disclose [Defendant's] conditional and proprietary information (if any), or to trade upon its good will." (Docket No. 13 at 7). Nor did Defendant "identify any legitimate business reason that would support the enforcement of the non-compete agreement so as to preclude Ms. Eaton from continuing her work at [Team RWB]." (Docket No. 13 at 7-8).

         Within an hour of calling Plaintiff, Defendant called Team RWB and threatened to take legal action to enforce the Non-Compete Agreement if Team RWB "did not sever its relationship with her." (Docket No, 13 at 11). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant made this communication knowing that it had no legitimate business reason to enforce the Non-Compete Agreement, knowing that the Non-Compete Agreement was unenforceable, and "with the malicious intent of having [Plaintiff] fired." (Docket No. 13 at 8-11, 12). As a

Page 280

result of this call, Team RWB terminated Plaintiff's employment on October 24, 2016. (Docket Nos. 13 ...


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