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Bento v. City of Milford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2016

ERICA BENTO, and MELISSA DUBIEL, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF MILFORD and LISA DIAMOND GRAHAM, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN DISTRICT JUDGE

         Erica Bento and Melissa Dubiel (together “Plaintiffs”) have brought this action against their former employer, the City of Milford (“the City”), and their former supervisor, Ms. Lisa Diamond Graham (together “Defendants”). In their Second Amended Complaint against Defendants, Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel allege various federal claims as well as claims under Connecticut law, relating to their employment with the City under Ms. Graham's supervision.

         Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel each allege that Defendants violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by retaliating against them for making protected complaints against Ms. Graham during the course of their employment (Counts Fourteen-Fifteen). Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 147-156, ECF No. 57. Ms. Bento also brings the following additional federal claims: violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and privacy-related rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count One); discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (Count Sixteen); and interference with medical leave in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (Count Seventeen). Id. at ¶¶ 80-85, 157-173.

         Plaintiffs also bring various claims under Connecticut law. Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel each allege three separate state law retaliation claims under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-51q (Counts Two-Three), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-51m (Counts Four-Five), and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”) (Counts Six-Seven). Id. at ¶¶ 86-115. Ms. Dubiel also brings a separate claim of retaliation under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-290a (Count Eight) alleging that the City retaliated against her for bringing a worker's compensation claim. Id. at ¶¶ 116-121. Finally, Ms. Bento separately brings a disability discrimination claim against the City under CFEPA (Count Nine), claims of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count Ten) and Fraudulent Misrepresentation (Count Thirteen) against Ms. Graham; and a claim of Negligent Supervision against the City (Count Eleven). Id. at ¶¶ 122-141, 143-146.

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED with respect to all federal claims. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.

         I. FACTUAL SUMMARY

         The following facts are undisputed by the parties.

         The City previously employed Erica Bento as a full-time community outreach worker, and Melissa Dubiel as a secretary and bookkeeper. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. 84-2. Since 2007, the City employed Lisa Diamond Graham as the Executive Director of the Department of Human Services (“DHS”). L.R. 56(a)(2) ¶ 5, ECF No. 101-1. In that role, Ms. Graham served as the direct supervisor for both Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel. Id. at ¶ 4.

         A. 2010 Incident Regarding Health Insurance Coverage

         When Ms. Bento began work with the City, Ms. Graham informed Ms. Bento that her dependents would not be eligible for health insurance coverage. Id. at ¶ 10. When Ms. Bento's daughter needed certain medical testing in 2010, Ms. Bento asked Ms. Graham how she could get medical coverage for her daughter, and Ms. Graham informed her that “open enrollment” had already concluded and Ms. Bento needed a qualifying event, such as getting married, in order to enroll in health insurance coverage for her daughter. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12; Bento Dep. 90, 109-111, Def Ex. C, ECF No. 84-7. Ms. Bento contacted then-Mayor James Richetellito to discuss the issue of health insurance coverage for her daughter, and he informed Ms. Bento that Ms. Graham's assessment of the situation was “not the case.” L.R. 56(a)(2) ¶ 12; Def. Ex. C at 111.

         The City arranged to discuss the issue of health insurance coverage for Ms. Bento at the upcoming meeting of the Board of Aldermen; however, following Ms. Graham's advice, Ms. Bento got married to her boyfriend at the time in order to ensure that she obtained medical coverage for her daughter. L.R. 56(a)(2) ¶¶ 16-18; Def. Ex. C at 111. At Ms. Graham's request, the City subsequently approved a budget allocation to provide health insurance coverage to Ms. Bento's daughter. L.R. 56(a)(2) ¶ 17.

         B. Written Complaints against Ms. Graham and the City's Investigation

         During the course of their employment with the City, Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel filed numerous complaints with the City. Apr. 2011 Compl., Def. Ex. K, ECF No. 84-15; Jan. 2012 Compl., Def. Ex. R, ECF No. 85-7; Dubiel Feb. 2012 Compl., Def. Ex. S, ECF No. 85-8; Bento Feb. 2012 Compl., Def. Ex. V, ECF No. 85-11; Apr. 2012 Compl., Def. Ex. W, ECF No. 85-12. In each of these complaints, they alleged various types of misconduct on the part of Ms. Graham.

         1. Ms. Bento's April 2011 Complaint

         In April of 2011, Ms. Bento filed a complaint with the City's Personnel Director, John O'Connell, describing an “unprofessional work environment” under Ms. Graham's leadership. Def. Ex. K. Ms. Bento specifically alleged that Ms. Graham had a practice of requesting and disclosing detailed information pertaining to the personal lives of employees, including requiring specific explanations when employees needed to take time off and openly discussing employee salaries in the office. Id. Ms. Bento complained of a specific instance in which Ms. Graham identified Ms. Bento as a “Milford working family in need” during a staff meeting around the holidays, resulting in personal embarrassment to Ms. Bento. Id. Her complaint also alleged that Ms. Graham regularly expressed favoritism among individual employees, reported inflated DHS statistics to her superiors, used Ms. Bento's participation in board meetings to “create conflict” among different agencies, and made misrepresentations at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen that she would be forced to cut Ms. Bento's position if she did not receive funding for health insurance benefits. Id.; L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 20-32.

         2. Ms. Bento's January 2012 Complaint

         In January of 2012, Ms. Bento made another complaint to Steven Fournier, who was serving as Assistant to the Mayor. Jan. 2012 Compl., Def Ex. R, ECF No. 85-7. In this complaint, Ms. Bento described an incident that took place after Ms. Bento left work for lunch on January 20, 2012 and did not return until 4:30 p.m. Id. When Ms. Bento returned to the office in the late afternoon, she explained to Ms. Graham that she had gone to the courthouse to obtain a protective order against the father of one of her children. Records of text communications between Ms. Bento and Ms. Graham from that evening reflect that the two were in communication about this incident outside of work hours and that Ms. Bento expressed gratitude for Ms. Graham's support. Bento Text Message Tr., Def. Ex. O, ECF No. 85-3.

         The January 2012 complaint alleges that three days later, on January 23, 2012, Ms. Graham called Ms. Bento into her office and requested that Ms. Bento sign a release allowing Ms. Graham to speak with Ms. Bento's family therapist about what was going on. Def. Ex. R. Ms. Bento refused. Id. Ms. Graham subsequently called a staff meeting during which she disclosed details pertaining to Ms. Bento's protective order. Id.; L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 39-40. Ms. Bento reports that she went to the hospital after that staff meeting, and she did not come to work the following day, January 24, 2012. Def Ex. R. When she returned to work on January 25, 2012, Ms. Graham asked her what happened. Id. Ms. Bento told her that she was not comfortable discussing anything personal in the office, to which Ms. Graham responded with an expletive. Id.

         3. Ms. Dubiel's February 2012 Complaint

         In February of 2012, Ms. Dubiel submitted a written complaint to Stephen Fournier detailing similar allegations as those contained in Ms. Bento's April 2011 complaint. Dubiel Feb. 2012 Compl., Def. Ex. S, ECF No. 85-8. In addition to alleging that Ms. Graham regularly shared personal information pertaining to office employees, Ms. Dubiel also alleged that Ms. Graham was careless about protecting client confidentiality when discussing matters in the office, altered meeting minutes and inflated statistics in her reporting, and used “double standards” regarding the distribution and use of “comp” time by allowing more flexibility with favored employees. Id.

         In her complaint, Ms. Dubiel also described an incident in December 2011 when she took some time off from work due to a medical issue. Id. Text message records from that time reflect that Ms. Dubiel volunteered detailed and specific information about her condition to Ms. Graham via text message when requesting time off. Dubiel Text Message Tr., Def. Ex. N, ECF No. 85-2. Ms. Dubiel's complaint alleged that Ms. Graham shared details about Ms. Dubiel's medical issue with others in the office during her absence, causing embarrassment to Ms. Dubiel. Def. Ex. S.

         4. Ms. Bento's February 2012 Complaint

         Ms. Bento submitted another written complaint to John O'Connell in February 2012, detailing allegations similar to those previously described regarding the work environment under Ms. Graham's leadership. Bento Feb. 2012 Compl., Def. Ex. V, ECF No. 85-11. This complaint also described an incident in which Ms. Graham publicly told Ms. Bento that if Ms. Bento ever got pregnant, she would be fired. Id. Ms. Bento was not pregnant at the time, and was never terminated from her position. The complaint further alleged that Ms. Graham was discriminatory in her treatment of DHS clients based on other programs they received, such as Section 8. Id.

         5. April 2012 Complaint, October 2012 Letter, and CHRO/EEOC Complaints

         In April of 2012, Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel submitted a final written complaint to the City detailing similar allegations and describing both “financial impropriety” on the part of Ms. Graham and a “toxic environment” under her leadership. Apr. 2012 Compl., Def. Ex. W, ECF No. 85-12. This final complaint led to a meeting with the City's attorney, Debra Kelly, as well as with the City's Personnel Director Mr. O'Connell. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶¶ 54-55.

         Following this meeting, Plaintiffs' counsel submitted a letter to current Mayor Benjamin Blake on October 1, 2012 referencing all five of these complaints and generally asserting that Bento and Dubiel were subjected to “harassment” for complaining about Ms. Graham's conduct. Pl. Letter, Def. Ex. Z, ECF No. 85-15. The letter also described their intention to initiate legal proceedings if no action was taken by the City. Id. The City subsequently hired counsel and initiated an investigation into their allegations, resulting in a detailed report addressing each of the accusations against Ms. Graham. Investigative Report, Def. Ex. Q, ECF No. 85-6.

         Dissatisfied with the City's response, Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel filed charges with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in December 2012 asserting CFEPA and Title VII claims. CHRO Complaints, Def. Ex. PPP, ECF No. 88-7. Ms. Bento also filed a separate complaint with the CHRO and EEOC in July 2013 under the ADA, as well as an additional complaint in August 2014 after the commencement of this lawsuit. Id.

         A. Allegedly Retaliatory Acts

         Ms. Bento and Ms. Dubiel both allege that in the wake of the five written complaints, the October 2012 letter and the initiation of the investigation against Ms. Graham, Ms. Graham took various retaliatory actions against them which the City failed to prevent. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-49. They both admit that they were never terminated from their respective positions, they were never formally demoted, and their pay was never reduced; however, they claim that Ms. Graham took retaliatory actions against them that negatively impacted their employment with the City and ultimately required them to take medical leave and eventually resign from their positions. Id. at ¶¶ 44, 54-55, 77.

         1. Alleged Employer Actions as to Ms. Dubiel

         Ms. Dubiel alleges that Defendants took several actions against her in retaliation for her various complaints. Specifically, Ms. Dubiel alleges that, after receiving the October 2012 letter from her and Ms. Bento's attorney describing the various complaints in which Ms. Dubiel was involved, Ms. Graham increased her monitoring of Ms. Dubiel's work, “demanded that Ms. Dubiel copy her on external communications, ” and removed Ms. Dubiel from participation in various community programs such as the “Family Fun Night” and the “Thanks for Giving” program. L.R. 56(a)(2) ¶¶ 162-155. Ms. Dubiel also claims that the City requested excessive medical documentation when she took multiple absences from work in October 2013. L.R. 56(a)(2) ¶¶ 184-185. Ms. Dubiel never returned to work, and she formally resigned from her position in January of 2014. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 97.

         2. Alleged Employer Actions as to Ms. Bento

         Ms. Bento also alleges that a variety of retaliatory actions were taken against her. After Ms. Graham was notified about Plaintiffs' complaints, Ms. Graham began including a third-party scrivener at all in-person meetings between herself and Ms. Bento. L.R. 56(a)(1) ¶ 57. According to Ms. Bento, this third party was a “subordinate employee” who was “loyal” to Ms. Graham and hostile to Ms. Bento. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28, 31. Ms. Bento alleges that this employee would meet with Ms. Graham before and after ...


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