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Dickman v. University of Connecticut Health Ctr.

Appellate Court of Connecticut

January 19, 2016

PRISCILLA DICKMAN
v.
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT HEALTH CENTER

         Argued October 16, 2015.

          Complaint alleging discriminatory discharge from employment, brought to the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the First District, who issued a decision dismissing the plaintiff's claim, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff, who had sought ergonomic changes to her work area because of worsening back pain, brought an action against her defendant employer pursuant to statute (§ 31-290a), claiming that she was constructively discharged from her employment as a result of her having exercised her rights under the Workers' Compensation Act (§ 31-275 et seq.). She claimed that the defendant had failed to provide reasonable accommodations for her physical impairments, and created a hostile work environment by initiating criminal and civil ethics investigations of her with the purpose to harass her. As a result, she claimed, she was forced to retire after her nonservice disability retirement application was approved. The Workers' Compensation Commissioner dismissed her claim after finding that she had not sustained her burden of proving that the defendant had created a hostile work environment that caused her to be constructively discharged from her employment. On appeal, the plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that the commissioner's factual findings were clearly erroneous. Held that the commissioner's decision was not clearly erroneous, as the evidence supported his finding that the defendant's actions were not discriminatory: although the plaintiff established a prima facie case of constructive discharge, the commissioner determined that the defendant had rebutted that presumption and that the plaintiff did not meet her burden of demonstrating that the defendant created a hostile work environment that resulted in her constructive discharge; moreover, testimony by the defendant's employees undercut the plaintiff's claim that she was pressured to leave her job and that the defendant did not make reasonable accommodations for her, criminal and civil ethics investigators testified that no one associated with the defendant had requested them to pursue their investigations of the plaintiff, and it was the commissioner's function to find facts and determine the credibility of witnesses.

         Priscilla Dickman, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

         Lawrence G. Widem, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, and Philip M. Schultz, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (defendant).

         DiPentima, C. J., and Gruendel and Sheldon, Js. DiPENTIMA, C. J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

Page 740

         [162 Conn.App. 443] DiPENTIMA, C. J.

         The plaintiff, Priscilla Dickman, appeals from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the first district (commissioner) dismissing her General Statutes § 31-290a[1] discriminatory

Page 741

discharge claim against the defendant, the University of Connecticut Health Center. On appeal, the self-represented plaintiff[2] challenges the commissioner's [162 Conn.App. 444] findings and conclusions. The defendant responds that the plaintiff has failed to provide any grounds for reversing the commissioner's dismissal, and that the record supports the commissioner's dismissal.[3] We agree with the defendant, and, accordingly, affirm the decision of the commissioner.

         The following procedural history is relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff filed this discriminatory discharge claim in January, 2012, pursuant to § 31-290a (b) (2), alleging that the defendant constructively discharged her because she exercised rights afforded to her under the Workers' Compensation Act, General Statutes § 31-275 et seq. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that because the defendant failed to accommodate her physical impairments and because it initiated criminal and civil ethics investigations with the purpose to harass her, the defendant created a hostile work environment, thereby forcing her to retire. The plaintiff sought, inter alia, a finding that the defendant, by its alleged conduct, violated § 31-290a. The commissioner held seven formal hearings between 2012 and 2014 in which testimony was received from nine witnesses, deposition testimony was received from one additional witness, and more than 100 exhibits were admitted into evidence. The [162 Conn.App. 445] commissioner found in favor of the defendant and dismissed the plaintiff's discriminatory discharge claim. This appeal followed.

         We set forth the relevant facts found by the commissioner. The defendant employed ...


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