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Lennon v. Nokia

March 24, 2009

DEBORAH LENNON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NOKIA, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lisa Margaret Smith, U.S.M.J.

DECISION AND ORDER

Deborah Lennon ("Plaintiff") brings this action against Nokia, Inc. ("Defendant") for fraudulent inducement to enter into a contract of employment.*fn1 Defendant counterclaims for breach of contract based on Plaintiff's failure to reimburse Defendant for expenses paid pursuant to their relocation agreement. Docket # 10. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim and on its counterclaim, and Plaintiff cross-moves for summary judgment on Defendant's counterclaim. See Docket #'s 29-32, 40-54, 57-58. The parties have consented to my jurisdiction for purposes of deciding the motions. Docket # 28. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, and Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND*fn2

In the fall of 2005, Plaintiff was laid off by her then-employer, Sun Microsystems. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 1. On October 26, 2005, a recruiter sent Plaintiff an advertisement for a Channel Marketing Director position with Defendant. Id. ¶ 2; see Lennon Aff. (Docket # 45) Ex. 1. At the time, Plaintiff lived in California, while the advertised position was located in New York. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 5. Plaintiff contacted the recruiter and applied for the position. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff had a telephone interview with Barry Issberner, Vice President of Global Marketing. Id. ¶ 12. Issberner requested that Plaintiff draft a channel marketing action plan, setting forth the steps she would take to develop and implement channel programs. See Egan Aff. (Docket # 44) Ex. A (Lennon Depo.) at 95. Thereafter, Plaintiff interviewed with other of Defendant's employees. Id. at 96-97, 99, 101-02. It was Plaintiff's understanding that her job responsibilities would include what was outlined in the job posting, in the "thank you" notes that she sent to her interviewers, and in her channel marketing action plan. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 17.

Plaintiff received an offer letter from Defendant dated January 5, 2006, which she signed on January 7, 2006. See Lennon Aff. Ex. 5. The offer letter states, "You may terminate your employment with the Company at any time and for any reason whatsoever simply by notifying the company. Likewise, the Company may terminate your employment at any time with or without cause or advance notice. This at-will employment relationship cannot be changed except in writing signed by the Vice President of Human Resources." Id. Plaintiff claims that she did not understand that provision of the letter at the time she signed it. Goldring Decl. Ex. A (Lennon Depo.) at 115.*fn3 Plaintiff's online application form for the job also stated that she was being offered at-will employment, Goldring Decl. Ex. A (Lennon Depo.) Ex. F, as did the Handbook that she received. Id. Ex. I at 3, 4.*fn4 Plaintiff also received a relocation agreement from Defendant, which she signed on January 7, 2006. See Lennon Aff. Ex. 6; see also Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 26; Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 26.

Plaintiff began working for Defendant on January 30, 2006, from California. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 21; Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 21. At the time that Plaintiff was hired by Defendant, she did not have a job, although she ceased negotiations for another job with a company in California as a result of Defendant's offer. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 22; Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 22. Plaintiff moved to New York in June, 2006. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 31; Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 31. The parties dispute whether the job lived up to Plaintiff's expectations. Compare Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 41 with Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 41. On July 11, 2006, Plaintiff attended a meeting with her boss, David Petts, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Solutions Sales and Marketing, John Mason, Vice President of Channels, and Steve Jones. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 45. At the meeting, Plaintiff made a presentation concerning the status of the Channel Program, and Mr. Petts indicated that the program that had been designed was not what he wanted. Am. Compl. ¶ 32; Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 47.*fn5

According to Defendant, following the July 11th meeting, Plaintiff met with John Mason and Steve Jones on July 12, 2006, to devise a new project plan. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 52; see Goldring Decl. (Docket # 31) Ex. A (Lennon Depo.) at 147 ([At the July 12th meeting, they discussed] "[h]ow David Petts' revised channel program was a major, major change from what we had been designing and what we had been working on for the last six months. And that the management of that program would be magnitudes more complex. And then we put together a new project plan with the right people in the contributing and lead positions on that."). Plaintiff went on vacation on July 17, 2006, and returned to work on July 24, 2006. Defendant's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 53. During that time, there were meetings held to discuss all aspects of the program. Id. ¶ 54. According to Plaintiff, when she returned from vacation, there was a new project plan that had taken the place of the one she had devised with John Mason and Steve Jones, which included two new contractors and other employees. Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 56. Under the new plan, Plaintiff became responsible for marketing communications, id. ¶ 57,*fn6 while two contractors were hired to assume responsibilities that had been part of Plaintiff's job description -- "Program definition, guidelines and naming" and "Program localization and implementation."

Id.; Lennon Aff. Ex. 8. While Plaintiff was told that these two contractors were supposed to report to her, they neither reported to her nor took direction from her; rather, they took direction from John Mason. Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 57.

At the beginning of August, 2006, Plaintiff exchanged e-mails with Megan Matthews, who had replaced Barry Issberner as Plaintiff's manager. See Goldring Decl. Ex. A (Lennon Depo.) at 164-65 & Depo. Ex. L. As Matthews explained to Plaintiff, "this is redefining your focus areas as part of your job." Id. Ex. L. According to Plaintiff, she did not know why this refocusing of her job took place, but it occurred while she was away on vacation in July: "When I left on vacation, we had a project plan that Steve, John, and I had agreed to, and I was the lead and possibly a contributor in the program definition and the program implementation." Id. at 165.*fn7 Plaintiff claims that throughout August, 2006, her duties continued to change; she was no longer privy to a lot of meetings, and when she tried to participate in core team meetings, she was discredited or not listened to. Id. at 171-73. Thereafter, she continued to be marginalized in her job. Id. at 188.

Plaintiff states in her Rule 56.1 Statement in response to Defendant's motion, "Nokia never allowed her to perform the job for which she moved," and "Nokia did not allow her to perform a Global Channel Marketing Director role. Nokia did not tell Lennon that they hired [John] Mason to perform the job prior to hiring Lennon. Nokia misrepresented to Lennon that she would have the opportunity to perform the Global Channel Marketing Director role." Plaintiff's Opp. 56.1 Statement ¶ 35. Plaintiff further contends, "That Mason's job encompassed virtually all of the responsibilities included in Ms. Lennon's job description is demonstrated by a comparison of Ms. Lennon's job description and the job requisition which David Petts, the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Enterprise Solutions and the person to whom both Mason and Issberner reported, identified as John Mason's [j]ob description." Id. ¶ 96. In sum, according to Plaintiff, she "was frustrated from the beginning of her employment with Nokia because she was given a different job than the one she was offered and accepted." Id. ¶ 63.

With respect to Defendant's counterclaim, the relocation agreement signed by Plaintiff on January 7, 2006, states,

I further acknowledge should I fail for any reason under my control to begin the assignment on the designated date, be discharged for disciplinary action to include but not limited to unlawful or criminal conduct, falsification of records, physical violence, destruction of company property, improper discrimination, harassment of other employees, including sexual harassment or voluntarily terminate my employment, with NOKIA prior to twelve (12) months from the date of relocation, it is agreed I will reimburse NOKIA for any and all expenses . . . per the following table . . .

Goldring Decl. Ex. A (Lennon Depo.) Ex. G. The Nokia Handbook states that "[u]nreported absences of 3 consecutive days will be considered a voluntary termination." Lennon Depo. Ex. I at 9. Plaintiff also initialed the relocation agreement next to the statement, "I have read and acknowledge the terms and conditions set forth in the NOKIA Relocation Policy." Lennon Depo. Ex. G. The Relocation Policy states that in order to be eligible for relocation assistance, an employee must, among other things, "work full-time at the new location for thirty-nine (39) weeks within the first year of transfer." Lennon Depo. Ex. H at 5.

In March, 2006, Plaintiff made a deposit on a home in New York, and she relocated to New York in June, 2006. Plaintiff's S.J. 56.1 Statement ¶ 21. On November 7, 2006, Plaintiff sent an e-mail to Fred Bullock, her then-manager, which stated that she would be out ill, was "trying to get in to see my doctor this morning/afternoon," and would keep him posted. Lennon Aff. Ex. 10. Bullock responded, "OK, thanks." Id. Plaintiff neither went to work nor contacted anyone at work on either November 8, 9, or 10. See Goldring Decl. Ex. A (Lennon Depo.) at 190-91. On November 10, 2006, Neal Wagner, HR Director -- Northeast Area, sent a letter to Plaintiff which stated as follows,

It has become clear that it is not feasible to continue your employment with Nokia. As we have discussed, your performance and behavior have been unsatisfactory despite our efforts to provide you with feedback and direction. You have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with and a lack of interest in continuing, your role with the company. These ongoing issues, coupled with the fact that you have not reported to work or provided any information regarding your status and intentions since November 7, 2006, lead us to conclude that you are no longer interested in continuing your employment with Nokia, and you will be separated from ...


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