Former Executive Alleges Gender Bias, Retaliatory Firing by NEXT Insurance

A former chief corporate officer for NEXT Insurance is accusing the company and its chief executive officer of gender and disability discrimination in the workplace and of firing her in retaliation for her request for medical leave for cancer surgery.

In a seven count complaint against the digital small business insurer and its CEO Guy Goldstein, Jennifer Lawrence claims they treated her and other women differently than male executives and that despite receiving regular positive feedback from Goldstein and others, he suddenly fired her four days after she said she needed to take medical leave for cancer treatments.

In her 13-page complaint, Lawrence describes a work environment for women that she maintains was a “stark contrast” to how men were treated.

On a number of occasions when she raised complaints by female employees regarding the behavior of male executives, she claims Goldstein was dismissive of the complaints and defended his male executives.

She maintains the Goldstein was “paternalistic and gender-biased” toward women who were criticized for being “sensitive” or, in her case, for being “mean” and a “bully,” while favoring male executives whose behavior was “condescending, dismissive, aggressive, and/or intimidating.”

She acknowledges that at one point Goldstein said he had heard comments about her being “mean” and he cited an email Lawrence had written to him that he said was “mean,” and made him think she was “mad at him.”

Lawrence says she expressed that she should not be held to a different standard than her male colleagues. According to Lawrence, Goldstein responded that it had “nothing to do with role or gender,” but cautioned that it was important she be “liked” at NEXT.

She describes Goldstein as being dismissive of a female team member’s complaint about another male executive when Goldstein allegedly replied that “everyone thinks he is a bully when they first meet him and then they end up telling me that he is a teddy bear and they love him,” or words to that effect.

Positive Feedback

Lawrence says that notwithstanding those Goldstein’s comments, “all other feedback she received concerning her job performance was positive” including from other key leaders who she says praised her work product and leadership. In June 2022, she says Goldstein stated she was “doing a great job.”

During a January 5, 2023 meeting, Lawrence informed Goldstein about some bad news she had received from her oncologist and requested medical leave. Goldstein commented, “We would never fire you for health reasons.”

Four days later she was fired, the complaint says.

According to the complaint, Goldstein informed Lawrence of her termination in a Zoom meeting while accompanied by an outside attorney. She says Goldstein told her that immediately after the January 5, 2023 meeting he had done an “emergency 360 review” on Lawrence over the weekend and “found out” that she was “bullying” and creating a “hostile work environment.”

Lawrence says she was shocked and asked for specifics. According to the complaint, Goldstein’s only response, before being shut down by the outside attorney, was “Wow, maybe you really don’t know what a bully you are.”

Lawrence accuses NEXT of subsequently changing its story by claiming that the termination resulted from a months-long investigation—and not an “emergency” 360 review.

Lawrence maintains that NEXT had no valid basis to investigate her. “If any such ‘investigation’ was conducted, it was a sham motivated by discriminatory and/or retaliatory bias,” Lawrence asserts in her lawsuit.

The complaint filed in federal court in Massachusetts, where Lawrence worked, alleges violations under federal and state disability and gender discrimination laws as well as family and medical leave statutes. Lawrence is seeking compensatory, emotional distress, and punitive damages along with attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.

NEXT Comment

Asked for comment on the litigation, Rachel Jrade-Rice, NEXT general counsel, issued a brief statement: “We cannot comment on ongoing litigation, but NEXT has long been committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive culture.”

Prior to joining NEXT, Lawrence worked on legal affairs in both the public and private sectors, including for the Massachusetts attorney general and the insurance and banking regulatory agencies. In the private sector, she served as counsel for a financial consulting firm; a large publicly traded insurance company; and a privately owned group of insurance entities. She is also a founding member of the Boston Chapter of “Chief,” a network of women executives who provide mentorship to one another and promote opportunities for other women.

According to Lawrence, just as she was offered the job as chief corporate officer, two female executives resigned, causing her concern. But she accepted the job in February 2022 anyway.

Over the first few months of her employment, Lawrence said she made progress on several projects including reducing NEXT’s legal spend on outside counsel, restructuring the internal legal department, and establishing an enterprise risk management team. She maintains Goldstein’s initial feedback on Lawrence’s performance was positive.

She says she continued to work diligently throughout 2022, helping to create a captive carrier for NEXT, leading legal initiatives on revenue increasing ideas, and establishing an IPO readiness task force. Meanwhile, Goldstein continued to provide positive feedback during regular weekly meetings and otherwise, according to her complaint.