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Proto v. Northeast Imported Parts & Accessories, Inc.

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

March 31, 2016

Frank A. Proto, Jr.
Northeast Imported Parts and Accessories, Inc


          Salvatore C. Agati, J.

         This matter was tried before the Honorable William L. Hadden, Jr. on the dates of October 8, 14 and 15, 2014. Before Judge Hadden could render a decision, he became incapacitated and unable to issue his final decision. The matter was set down to be retried on February 2, 2016. The parties, by way of stipulation (see #139), agreed to have the court read the transcript of the trial and post-trial memoranda and render a decision on this case. The court having reviewed the trial transcripts and post-trial memoranda renders this decision.

         The plaintiff, Frank Proto (Proto), commenced this action by way of a two-count complaint against his former employer, Northeast Imported Parts and Accessories, Inc. (Northeast), claiming in the First Count that the defendant retaliated against him in terminating his employment pursuant to General Statutes § 46a-60(a)(4)[1] and claiming in the Second Count wrongful discharge pursuant to General Statutes § 46a-60(a)(5).

         The plaintiff (Proto) was hired by the defendant (Northeast) on or about January 4, 2011 as a full-time warehouse person at the defendant's facility in Wallingford, Connecticut.

         The supervisor of the facility was Deborah Rettenmayer who reported directly to the corporate office in California. The Wallingford facility employed four people when plaintiff started working there.

         One of the other warehouse persons working at the facility was Tory Jacques who performed the same work as the plaintiff. This work was essentially loading and unloading boxes and other containers, as well as packing and shipping items.

         Mr. Jacques, in late January of 2011, broke his leg while at home. This required Mr. Jacques to stay out of work until March 30, 2011. He was released by his doctor to return to work full time without any limitations.

         When Mr. Jacques returned to work he had a significant limp. He was questioned by Ms. Rettenmayer about his ability to keep up with the work at the warehouse. Ms. Rettenmayer expressed a concern that although Jacques was released to work full duty, he still had limitations which affected his ability to perform the duties required. After about a week, Ms. Rettenmayer terminated Mr. Jacques on April 6, 2011 because she felt he could not safely perform the job and adequately keep up with the work.

         On April 5, 2011, the plaintiff provided Ms. Rettenmayer with a written statement regarding his observations of Mr. Jacques' limitations in performing his work duties. There is disputed testimony about whether the statement was requested by Ms. Rettenmayer or provided voluntarily by the plaintiff. The fact remains it was prepared and provided to Ms. Rettenmayer the day before Mr. Jacques' termination.

         On April 20, 2011, Mr. Jacques filed a complaint with the State of Connecticut, Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) alleging that the defendant had discriminated against him based on his physical disability brought about by his broken leg causing him to be terminated.

         The complaint was received by the defendant on April 28, 2011. Ms. Rettenmayer showed the complaint to the plaintiff. She requested that he provide her with a second written statement that elaborated on Mr. Jacques' issues with job performance. This was provided by the plaintiff on April 29, 2011. The plaintiff claims when he reviewed the complaint filed by Jacques with CHRO, he pointed out to Ms. Rettenmayer that paragraph 14 of the responses to the complaint that needed to be completed by the employer asked about any reasonable accommodations provided by the employer to an employee with a physical disability claim. Plaintiff claims that Ms. Rettenmayer became upset by plaintiff's inquiry and began to treat him differently as a result of his raising this issue.

         Ms. Rettenmayer advised the plaintiff that the defendant did not have to provide reasonable accommodations to Mr. Jacques because he was released to full duty work. The plaintiff claims from that point on he felt there was a hostile work environment.

         The plaintiff claims three to four weeks after April 28, 2011, Ms. Rettenmayer requested he provide a third statement about Mr. Jacques which corporate in California was seeking from him. Plaintiff indicated that he refused to comply with the request because he did not want to be involved with the dispute between the defendant and Jacques and did not want to change his statement to be more favorable for the defendant regarding Jacques' claim. Plaintiff claims that as a result of his refusing to participate in this discriminatory conduct by the defendant as to Mr. Jacques' claim he was retaliated against by the defendant by terminating his employment on May 27, 2011.

         The defendant provided evidence of several events that took place in May of 2011 that ...

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