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Hart v. Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 25, 2015

SANDRA HART, Plaintiff,


Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

The Plaintiff, Sandra Hart (“Hart”), brings this action against Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc. (“ECSI”), for disability discrimination in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”) Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60, and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12111, as a result of her termination from employment following disclosure of her breast cancer diagnosis. Currently pending before the Court is the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 12]. For the reasons that follow, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

II. Factual Background

ECSI is a Connecticut corporation which provides services to senior citizens residing in lower Middlesex County, CT. [Dkt. 1, Compl. ¶ 2]. In January of 2010, Plaintiff was hired by the Defendant as a fundraising consultant. [Dkt. 12-4, Ex. 2, Hart Dep. Tr. 32-33]. On or about May 3, 2010, the Plaintiff was hired by the Defendant to serve in a newly-created position as Development Director [Dkt. 12-2, Def.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 1]. Plaintiff’s primary duties were to raise funds for the Defendant through grant applications and fundraising drives and events. [Dkt. 15-5, Ex D].

The parties in this case have submitted testimony supporting two different versions of the events leading to Plaintiff’s termination. Plaintiff’s version of events begins in December of 2012, when Plaintiff was diagnosed with breast cancer and informed members of the Defendant’s Board of Directors and the Executive Director Paula Ferrara. [Dkt. 12-2, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement ¶ 3]. Plaintiff claims that after she informed the Defendant regarding her diagnosis, she noticed a change in the attitude of several coworkers, describing them as “cold.” [Id]. Plaintiff testified at her deposition that she planned to continue working, but planned to take off one half-day every two weeks for her chemotherapy treatment. [Dkt. 12-4, Ex. 2, Hart Dep. Tr. 144-146].

Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant’s Controller, Stan Mingione, delayed or withheld payment of Defendant’s group health insurance premiums, which resulted in Plaintiff receiving letters threatening termination of coverage. [Dkt. 15-3, Ex. B, Hart Aff. ¶ 11]. Plaintiff admits that such premiums were eventually paid, but testified that the termination letters caused her “great distress.” [Id. ¶ 13]. Plaintiff also describes Mingione as “harassing and bullying, ” but has not asserted any facts to support her characterization. [Id.].

Plaintiff hand-delivered a letter to Ferrara on February 18, 2013 which discussed her concerns regarding the group health insurance premiums and her deteriorating relationship with Mingione. [Id. ¶ 14]. In that letter, Plaintiff complained about Mingione’s “personal attitude toward me since my very first day here, ” which date necessarily predated her cancer diagnosis and disclosure of her diagnosis to the Defendant. [Dkt. 12-11, Ex. 9, Letter dated February 18, 2013 at 3]. Plaintiff’s letter also stated that “resolution to these issues is critical to my health, my job performance and the smooth running of the office.” [Id.].

Plaintiff claims that two days after she wrote that letter, on February 20, 2013, after her first chemotherapy treatment, she eavesdropped on Mingione's end of a telephone conversation. Plaintiff claims that Ferrara was on the other end of the conversation, although she admits that she could not hear the other participant. [Dkt. 12-4, Ex. 2, Hart Dep. Tr. 144-149]. Plaintiff claims that Mingione was discussing Plaintiffs employment and “strategies for getting rid of her” and that she heard Mingione utter something along the lines of “she’s milking it” and that this comment was in reference to her disability. [Id. 149:19-24]. Plaintiff’s employment was terminated two days later on February 22, 2013. [Dkt. 15-3, Ex. B, Hart Aff. ¶ 16].

Defendant’s version of the events surrounding Plaintiff’s termination, however, begins in January of 2013, when Defendant’s Finance Committee held a meeting noting an $11, 000 decline in fundraising and an overall program deficit of $65, 000. [Dkt. 12-6, Ex. 4, Minutes of Finance Committee Meeting dated January 16, 2013]. Thereafter, Defendant’s Treasurer, Bob Ford, recommended to its Board of Directors that “people fasten their seatbelts as they are in for a rough ride” and that the corporation take a “good strong look” at where cuts could be made to the staff, as personnel costs were exceeding the budgeted amount by $10, 000. [Dkt. 12-7, Ex. 5, Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting dated January 28, 2013]. The Board was informed that two personnel positions had already been recently eliminated. [Id.]. The minutes of that Board meeting reveal that Ford asked Ferrara “about a specific staff position-the one specifically responsible for fundraising, ” referring to Plaintiff’s position. [Id. at 3]. According to the minutes:

“[Ford] indicated that he recognized that there is a difference between running a nonprofit and a company with a number of profit centers. He suggested that the position responsible for fundraising, along with probably others, is not so difficult to measure, in terms of performance. He indicated that the loaded salary of the incumbent should be offset by the monies brought in to the organization, year after year. And if that isn’t the case, there is a problem.
Ms. Ferrara indicated that the position is measured. A discussion followed regarding the position and the measurements. [Ferrara] requested strict confidence be maintained, and asked that nothing be shared with anybody. Personnel issues are not for discussion at the Board meetings. The only reason information was provided is because it was in response to a question asked by a board member. [Ferrara] asked again that everyone please not share any of this with anybody as it is a personnel issue.”

[Id. at 3-4].

At the next Finance Committee meeting on February 20, 2013, Ford emphasized that “[t]he Estuary is at a critical junction financially.” [Dkt. 12-8, Ex. 6, Minutes of Finance Committee Meeting dated February 20, 2013]. Mingione stated that Defendant’s deficit projection had risen to $109, 000 and was due to ...

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