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Appeals Court of Massachusetts.



Decided: October 13, 2021

By the Court (Vuono, Blake & Englander, JJ.2)


The plaintiff, Cathryn A. Baker, appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court dismissing her wrongful termination lawsuit against her former employer, Bright Horizons. We affirm.

Background. The facts are taken from the allegations of the complaint and for present purposes must be accepted as true. See Calixto v. Coughlin, 481 Mass. 157, 158 (2018). Baker was a teacher at the defendant's Lexington location before she “was falsely accused of being ‘violent in the workplace’ ․ in a retaliatory manner.” As a result, Baker was terminated on August 24, 2017.

On August 13, 2019, Baker filed a complaint alleging wrongful termination. Bright Horizons filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), which the judge granted. Baker appeals.3

Discussion. 1. Wrongful termination. Baker argues that her complaint adequately stated a wrongful termination claim. We disagree.

We review an order on a motion to dismiss de novo, accepting the allegations as true “and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.” Edwards v. Commonwealth, 477 Mass. 254, 260 (2017). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “allegations plausibly suggesting (not merely consistent with) an entitlement to relief” (quotations omitted). Iannacchino v. Ford Motor Co., 451 Mass. 623, 636 (2008). Here, the judge properly dismissed Baker's complaint, because Baker failed to plead any basis for a claim that her termination was wrongful under Massachusetts law.

“In Massachusetts an at-will employee can be terminated at any time, ‘for almost any reason or for no reason at all’ ” (citation omitted). Kelleher v. Lowell Gen. Hosp., 98 Mass. App. Ct. 49, 52 (2020). “We have recognized exceptions to that general rule, however, when employment is terminated contrary to a well-defined public policy.” Wright v. Shriners Hosp. for Crippled Children, 412 Mass. 469, 472 (1992). To state a claim for wrongful termination, Baker therefore must allege either: (1) that she was not an at-will employee -- that is, that she had a contractual right to continued employment, or (2) that she was terminated in violation of a recognized public policy. See Kelleher, 98 Mass. App. Ct. at 51-52. She has not alleged the existence of such a contractual right, and none of the bases for termination described in the complaint would satisfy the public policy exception.4

The public policy exception is a narrow one. See King v. Driscoll, 418 Mass. 576, 582 (1994). In her complaint, Baker sets forth two bases for her termination:5 (1) she was fired due to a false accusation that she was “violent in the workplace,” and (2) she was fired in “retaliation.” Neither of these grounds for termination are sufficient to invoke the public policy exception to at-will employment. Termination for a “false reason” is not sufficient to invoke the public policy exception. Cort v. Bristol-Myers Co., 385 Mass. 300, 306 (1982). And Baker's claim that the termination was “retaliatory” also does not qualify, where the only suggested basis for the “retaliation” mentioned in the complaint is that Baker had complained about the behavior of a co-worker. Wright, 412 Mass. at 472. We discern no error in the judge's dismissal of Baker's complaint.

Judgment affirmed.


3.   A single justice of this court entered an order on June 12, 2020 deeming Baker's appeal timely.

4.   Baker argues for the first time on appeal that she was “discriminated” against in the way she was compensated, but this claim was not made in her complaint, and in any event, it does not allege a stand-alone discrimination claim based upon being a member of any protected class. See G. L. c. 151B, § 4. Claims not raised below are waived. O'Connor v. Kadrmas, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 273, 288-289 (2019). Moreover, while Baker has also attached many new documents to her appellate brief, we do not consider documents that are provided for the first time on appeal. Mass. R. A. P. 8 (a), as amended, 378 Mass. 932 (1979).

5.   We construe pro se complaints liberally. I.S.H. v. M.D.B., 83 Mass. App. Ct. 553, 560 (2013).

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Docket No: 20-P-580

Decided: October 13, 2021

Court: Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

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