A co-owner of the popular Coccadotts Cake Shop stores in the Capital Region says he was forced out of his job last month after his fellow co-owners learned he was gay.
Matthew O’Connor is alleging his business partners, Rachel and Luke Dott, forced him out of the business without any explanation on Oct. 6 — about four months after he told them he was in a relationship with a male employee at Coccadotts. O’Connor, in a petition and complaint filed Friday in Supreme Court in Albany County, says his former partners made him “feel unwelcome and uncomfortable” in the months leading up to his ouster.
The husband-and-wife team “100 percent deny” the allegations, said Victor Caponera, an attorney for the Dotts. O’Connor was let go because of internal, business-related issues, he said, declining to elaborate further.
“It has nothing to do with his sexual orientation,” he said. “Anything he says about why he was released or why he was asked to leave — that it had to do with his sexual orientation — is a bold-faced lie. You don’t know the reasons. I do. But I’m not going to get into it.”
The Dotts asked O’Connor, through his attorney, to come back to work several weeks ago in an attempt to “work out their differences” but “he elected not to,” Caponera said.
O’Connor and Rachel Dott opened their first Coccadotts Cake Shop in 2007, offering custom cakes, specialty cupcakes and cookies out of a building Dott’s husband owned on Central Avenue in Colonie. In later years, they opened shops in Myrtle Beach, Clifton Park and at the University at Albany’s campus center, as well as a party room in Loudonville.
Coccadotts gained national recognition in 2011 after O’Connor and Dott appeared on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars reality competition show. They lost that year, but went on to appear on the show twice more over the next two years. On their third try in 2013 they won, bringing home a $10,000 grand prize and generating plenty of local pride and buzz.
O’Connor, in the complaint, says he and Dott were best friends since before they opened Coccadotts together. But he had never disclosed his sexual orientation until July, when she began questioning him about his close relationship with a male Coccadotts employee, he says in the court filing.
“After this disclosure, Mrs. Dott’s close friendship with O’Connor soured and her attitude towards O’Connor completely changed,” the filing says.
On Oct. 6, the complaint says that she called him and screamed at him over the phone, telling him he was no longer welcome back at Coccadotts and she would “change the locks” to deny him entry. He stopped getting paid, and could no longer access his work email or the administrator functions on the company’s Facebook page, he claims. The employee he was in a relationship with eventually quit.
O’Connor says the Dotts have since made “substantial changes” to the company’s corporate structure and have begun wasting, concealing and divesting assets that he might be entitled to in liquidation proceedings. They closed the company warehouse in Albany and relocated all production equipment to the Central Avenue store, where they’ve begun “extensive renovations” that include repaving the parking lot.
He’s alleging waste of corporate assets, breach of fiduciary duties, illegal termination, unjust enrichment and discrimination as a result of his sexual preference, a violation of New York State Human Rights Law, the complaint says.
He’s asking the court for judicial dissolution of the company’s various corporate entities, which include Coccadotts Inc., Coccadotts Express Inc., and Panaji Inc. He owned 49 percent of the shares in each entity, with the Dotts owning the rest. Dissolution is the “only recourse, as demands for reentry and/or a fair value buyout have gone unanswered,” the filing says. “Liquidation is the only feasible means by which O’Connor can reasonably expect to obtain a fair return on his investment.”
The court on Tuesday granted O’Connor an injunction to prevent the Dotts from taking any further actions that might affect the corporate structure, management or value of Coccadotts prior to any decision on dissolution.
Attempts to reach O’Connor on Tuesday were unsuccessful. His attorney, Peter Lauricella, said the complaint filed in court speaks for itself.
“Today, as we requested, the court agreed to temporarily restrain the defendants/respondents from taking any actions that would impair my client’s rights while the court considers the merits,” he said Tuesday in an email.
Reach Gazette reporter Bethany Bump at 395-3107, [email protected] or @BethanyBump on Twitter.