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Thorpe v. Department of Children and Families

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New Haven, New Haven

August 13, 2015

Claudette Thorpe
v.
Department of Children and Families

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT #159

Brian T. Fischer, J.

FACTS

On November 13, 2007, the plaintiff, Claudette Thorpe, commenced this action by service of process on the defendant, the Department of Children and Families. On August 6, 2010, the plaintiff filed the operative three-count second amended complaint, in which she alleges the following relevant facts.

The plaintiff, who is African American and black of color, suffers from the disabilities of depression and anxiety. At all relevant times, she was employed as a social work supervisor for the defendant, where she had been employed for ten years. The plaintiff's supervisor was Nancy Colberg-Perez.[1] The defendant and its agents, servants, and/or employees, including Colberg-Perez, created a hostile work environment by unrelentingly scrutinizing the plaintiff's job performance. The defendant unfairly discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of her race, color, and disability and retaliated against her for filing a complaint against the defendant with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) in 2005.[2]

In March 2006, the plaintiff obtained approval for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which she took intermittently for weekly therapy sessions and medical appointments following up on medication she took for her depression. In September 2006, while the plaintiff was at work, her husband was arrested in her home for drug use.

On October 31, 2006, the plaintiff was asked to attend an " interrogation" session with Kathy Simpson, the defendant's human resources officer, who told the plaintiff that she was being placed on administrative leave for alleged neglect of duty and misconduct. Simpson, who is Caucasian and white, questioned the plaintiff about her husband's arrest and mentioned that the investigation of the plaintiff was based on allegations that the plaintiff was sleeping on the job and using drugs. Up to this time, the plaintiff's performance evaluations had been satisfactory or better.

In November 2006, an agent of the defendant asked the plaintiff to take a drug test. Three individuals, Kelly McVey, Jodie Simpson, and Larry Rinehart--all of whom are Caucasian and white--had made unsubstantiated allegations of drug use against the plaintiff. The plaintiff declined to take a drug test because (1) she considered the request an invasion of her privacy and (2) she had previously provided the defendant with extensive medical information.

On December 5, 2006, the plaintiff received the results of the defendant's investigation into an unsubstantiated allegation by another supervisor, Lisa Votto, that the plaintiff was " a known long-term drug user." Votto is Caucasian and white. The individuals interviewed during the defendant's investigation were all subordinates of the plaintiff whom she had disciplined on prior occasions. As a result of the investigation, the defendant, through its agents, servants and/or employees, who are Caucasian and white, discharged the plaintiff on January 10, 2007. The defendant's similarly situated Caucasian and/or white employees have not been subjected to the harassment, hostile work environment, disparate treatment, and retaliation to which the plaintiff has been subjected.

Finally, the plaintiff alleges that on February 9, 2007, she availed herself of the administrative procedures provided by the CHRO and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which agencies issued release of jurisdiction letters on August 15, 2007, and October 22, 2007, respectively. The plaintiff has satisfied all statutory conditions precedent to bringing the present causes of action by exhausting all applicable administrative remedies.

In count one, the plaintiff alleges race and color discrimination in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA), General Statutes § 46a-60(a)(1).[3] In count two, the plaintiff alleges disability discrimination on the basis of her mental conditions of severe depression and anxiety and on the basis of the defendant's perception of the plaintiff as having a disability.

In count three, the plaintiff alleges a claim for retaliation in violation of § 46a-60(a)(4), [4] in support of which she alleges the following additional facts. Since the plaintiff filed a CHRO complaint in 2005, the defendant has engaged in the following conduct: making continuous allegations of drug use against the plaintiff, conducting an unfair investigation, and terminating the plaintiff without the benefit of progressive discipline and without identifying specific incidents to substantiate its allegations of neglect of duty. Individuals named in the plaintiff's 2005 CHRO complaint continued to treat the plaintiff unfairly up until the time of her improper discharge. The plaintiff prays for compensatory damages, fees, costs, back wages, retroactive institution of any benefits to which she would have been entitled, and other fair and equitable relief. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

On February 25, 2015, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. In support of the motion, the defendant filed a memorandum of law and a number of exhibits.[5] On April 22, 2015, the plaintiff filed an objection to the motion accompanied by a supporting memorandum of law and exhibits.[6] On April 28, 2015, the defendant filed a reply to the plaintiff's objection. The matter was heard at short calendar on May 4, 2015.

DISCUSSION

I

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

" Summary judgment is a method of resolving litigation when pleadings, affidavits, and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law . . . The motion for summary judgment is designed to eliminate the delay and expense of litigating an issue when there is no real issue to be tried . . . However, since litigants ordinarily have a constitutional right to have issues of fact decided by a jury . . . the moving party for summary judgment is held to a strict standard . . . of demonstrating his entitlement to summary judgment." (Citation omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Grenier v. Commissioner of Transportation, 306 Conn. 523, 534-35, 51 A.3d 367 (2012).

" As the party moving for summary judgment, the [defendant] is required to support its motion with supporting documentation, including affidavits." Heyman Associates No. 1 v. Insurance Co. of Pennsylvania, 231 Conn. 756, 796, 653 A.2d 122 (1995). Likewise, " [t]he existence of the genuine issue of material fact must be demonstrated by counteraffidavits and concrete evidence." (Emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Walker v. Dept. of Children & Families, 146 Conn.App. 863, 870, 80 A.3d 94 (2013), cert. denied, 311 Conn. 917, 85 A.3d 653 (2014). " Supporting and opposing affidavits shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein. Sworn or certified copies of all papers or parts thereof referred to in an affidavit shall be attached thereto." Practice Book § 17-46.

" [U]nadmitted allegations in the pleadings . . . do not constitute proof of the existence of a genuine issue as to any material fact on a motion for summary judgment." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Taylor v. Lantz, 129 Conn.App. 437, 449, 20 A.3d 88 (2011). Hearsay evidence is inadmissible for the purpose of supporting or defeating a motion for summary judgment. Cogswell v. American Transit Ins. Co., 282 Conn. 505, 534, 923 A.2d 638 (2007); Great Country Bank v. Pastore, 241 Conn. 423, 437, 696 A.2d 1254 (1997). " Hearsay statements are insufficient to contradict facts offered by the moving party . . ." (Citations omitted.) 2830 Whitney Avenue Corp. v. Heritage Canal Development Associates, Inc., 33 Conn.App. 563, 568, 636 A.2d 1377 (1994).

II

DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS[7]

" The legal standards governing discrimination claims involving adverse employment actions are well established. The framework this court employs in assessing disparate treatment discrimination claims under Connecticut law was adapted from the United States Supreme Court's decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp . v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), and its progeny . . . [Connecticut courts] look to federal law for guidance on interpreting state employment discrimination law, and the analysis is the same under both . . . Under this analysis, the employee must first make a prima facie case of discrimination . . . The employer may then rebut the prima facie case by stating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification for the employment decision in question . . . This burden is one of production, not persuasion; it can involve no credibility assessment . . . The employee then must demonstrate that the reason proffered by the employer is merely a pretext and that the decision actually was motivated by illegal discriminatory bias." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Feliciano v. Autozone, Inc., 316 Conn. 65, 73-74, 111 A.3d 453 (2015).

In the present case, the defendant argues that the plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of race/color or disability discrimination. Even if she can establish a prima facie case, the defendant argues, she cannot demonstrate that its proffered legitimate, ...


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