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Shakerdge v. Tradition Financial Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 26, 2017

JO LAYLA SHAKERDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
TRADITION FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., TFS ENERGY LLC, Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge

         Jo Layla Shakerdge (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit alleging that her former employer, Tradition Financial Services, Inc. and TFS Energy, LLC (together, “TFS” or “Defendants”), discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and retaliated against her for filing a civil rights complaint. After Shakerdge amended her complaint, TFS moved to dismiss counts three and four -retaliation claims under Title VII and state law -and her demand for a jury trial. For the reasons described below, the Motion to Dismiss will be DENIED with respect to Counts 3 and 4. The portion of the motion addressing the jury demand will also be DENIED without prejudice to renewal at a later stage of this case.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Shakerdge signed a three-year contract to work as an energy commodities broker for TFS in December 2010. Amend. Compl., ECF No. 29 at ¶ 15-18. She began work in January 2011, joining what she describes as a “large, open trading room” of approximately thirty-five other brokers, all of whom were men. Id. She worked at the “West and Midcontinent basis desk” and focused on natural gas transactions. Id. at ¶ 20. TFS had several desks, handling a variety of brokerage deals. Id. at ¶ 20-21. Mike Richard supervised Ms. Shakerdge and Keith Kelly, the managing director, supervised Mr. Richard. Id. at ¶ 22-23.

         Shakerdge alleges that, soon after joining the company, she “encountered the crassness and bias that pervaded the trading room” and that “she overheard sexist and racist comments.” Id. at ¶ 27-28. The brokers “often objectified and degraded women:” other employees had coded language for whether an unfamiliar woman entering the floor was attractive, and several brokers would view naked or semi-naked women, as well as pornography, on their computer screens. Id. at ¶ 30, 32-38. She also alleges other brokers shouted racial slurs and sexist language about clients or other TFS employees. Id. at ¶ 31-38. Shakerdge alleges that Alan Kurzer, CEO of TFS, and other managers were well aware of the way employees spoke on the trading floor and “contributed to the degrading environment.” Id. at ¶ 44.

         Shakerdge also alleges that she was “often on the receiving end of misogyny and physical harassment from her supervisors. Id. at ¶ 49. This allegedly included when:

• The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company, Alan Kurzer, attempted to whip her with a riding crop Shakerdge had brought to the office to use for horseback riding, id. at ¶50;
• The Chief Operations Officer (COO) Larry Rosenshein said he had thought she was a “stuck-up bitch, ” id. at ¶ 51;
• Keith Kelly, her immediate supervisor, hit her on the buttocks with a cardboard box, id. at ¶ 52; and
• Frank Picciarelli, a fellow broker on the same desk as Shakerdge, asked if she had performed oral sex on a friend, id. at ¶ 55.

         Shakerdge claims she repeatedly complained to her supervisors and other company officials about the treatment.

         Throughout her employment, Shakerdge alleges that other traders refused to work with her. On one occasion, she claims two brokers - Donny Tencellent and Picciarelli - did not invite her to a golf outing with clients they shared with her because they said it was a “guy thing” where “women d[idn't] belong.” Id. at ¶ 77. Brokers allegedly were unwilling to help her salvage any floundering client relationships. Id. at ¶ 78-79. Management and other brokers allegedly pressured her to relinquish her larger accounts. Id. at ¶ 80-89.

         In December, 2013, TFS informed Ms. Shakerdge that her contract would not be renewed, and she would be converted to an at-will status and her base salary would be cut 37.5 percent. Id. at ¶ 59. A few months later, TFS sent Shakerdge a letter stating she would be moved instead to employment on a month-to-month basis at the reduced salary level. Id. at ¶ 65.

         During a meeting in 2015, Shakerdge complained to Keith Kelly about what she thought was discriminatory treatment. Id. at ¶ 89-90. TFS fired Shakerdge on June 4, 2015. Id. at ¶ 96. Six months later, Shakerdge filed a complaint with Connecticut's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”), alleging that TFS “had discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, created a hostile work enforcement, and fired her in retaliation for engaging in protected activity.” Id. at ¶ 97.

         In January, 2016, Shakerdge alleges she began speaking to BGC Financial, L.P. (“BGC”), a brokerage firm in New York City, and this company offered a position as an energy commodities broker. Id. at ¶ 98. She alleges that BGC sent an employment agreement, which she brought to her lawyers, and that she began work “while her counsel and BGC's counsel negotiated the remaining details” of the agreement. Id. at ¶ 100. Shakerdge went into the office on April 11, 2016 and filled out human resources paperwork, was given computer access and a company e-mail address. Id. at ¶ 101-102. Additionally, Shakerdge alleges BGC registered her as broker for the firm with the National Futures Association, a regulatory agency. Id. at ¶ 101-102. She then worked a full day on April 12, 2016. Id. at ¶ 105.

         Later on the evening of April 12, 2016, Shakerdge alleges she received a text message from Jacqueline Bauer, a BGC Human Resources employee, asking her not to come back to BGC, until there was a signed employment agreement. Id. at ¶ 107. She did not attend work on April 13, and later that afternoon BGC informed her that her offer had been rescinded. Id. at ¶ 108. See also Amend. Compl., Ex. D, ECF No. 29-4 at 2 (“Thank you for your interest in BGC. Following up on your discussion with Shawn McLoughlin, I write to confirm that BGC is no longer pursuing your candidacy at this time.”)

         Shakerdge alleges that she later spoke to Joshua Slansky, another broker at BGC. Amend. Compl. at ¶ 110. She alleges he told her that BGC “had fired her because of her legal dispute with TFS” and that he knew this “because he sat near Bauer's and [BGC Deputy Human Resources Director ...


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