STACY PASSERI WAS looking for a promotion. Pacific Life Insurance was hiring someone to lead sales of its insurance products to stock brokers across the country. Passeri thought she was perfectly positioned as a field vice president at the firm, marketing these same products to brokerage firms in a western region of California that stretched from San Luis Obispo to Eureka, and she was eager for a bigger role. She’d heard that Mike Dahlquist, who held her same job title, was a contender too. But there were whispers about Dahlquist, who had a reputation as a partier. Women in the office talked about how he’d made unwelcome sexual advances. Passeri’s female colleagues had taken to rolling their eyes in reaction to his inappropriate remarks at work. Figuring that a man with his profile wouldn’t be taken seriously for a management role, she liked her odds for getting the job.
Passeri was wrong. She soon got the news from a senior vice president, Mike Bell, that Dahlquist had gotten the nod — and he would now be Passeri’s direct manager. She says she told Bell she wouldn’t be comfortable reporting to Dahlquist and tried to talk him out of making the hire, briefing him on Dahlquist’s reputation and suggesting he reopen the search. As Passeri would later describe it in court filings, Bell said she could trust him to keep tabs on Dahlquist and then offered some advice about her new boss: “Give him a chance,” he said. If anything went wrong, she recalls him telling her, “Let me know and I will help you.”
When Passeri had joined Pacific Life several months earlier, in April 2000, as a single mother of four with a flourishing career, she had high hopes. With a resume that included five years as a stock broker at Shearson Lehman Brothers and another 10 years in the insurance industry, “I was pretty tailor-made” for a job marketing insurance products to brokers, she recalled.
The dream job soured quickly once Dahlquist became her boss. She said the harassment began, full throttle, in March 2001.
The court filings allege that during a series of client meetings over a two-day period at four San Francisco restaurants, Dahlquist groped Passeri’s knee and thigh and played “footsies” with her under the table, sometimes after slipping his shoe off. On occasions when she and Dahlquist made eye contact as he was touching her, he would “signal her by raising his eyebrows,” according to a declaration she filed with the court. According to the filings, one client later told Passeri he’d noticed her “look of discomfort” during a meeting. Another recalls testifying that he saw Dahlquist put his hand up Passeri’s skirt.
Passeri’s complaint alleges that as she walked with Dahlquist in downtown San Francisco after one unnerving encounter, Dahlquist advised her that he now had a say in deciding whether to continue her contract. When she responded by telling him he had no such power, he reached over and grabbed her, saying, “Oops, I think I just grabbed your butt.”