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Konstantinidis v. First Student Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 17, 2016

GEORGIOS KONSTANTINIDIS, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST STUDENT INC., Defendant.

          RULING GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Georgios Konstantinidis worked as a school bus mechanic for defendant First Student Inc. In 2009, plaintiff was injured at work. He filed for workers' compensation benefits and was not medically cleared to return to full duty work until 2012, by which time the maintenance facility that he had worked at had closed down. Defendant told plaintiff there were no available positions for him at another facility.

         Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit, claiming that defendant discharged him because he filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits and claiming that he was discharged in violation of public policy. Defendant has now moved for summary judgment, and I will grant defendant's motion on the ground that no genuine issue of fact or law supports plaintiff's claims.

         Background

         The following facts are set forth on the basis of the evidentiary submissions and as viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Plaintiff was employed since 2007 as a school bus mechanic by defendant at its maintenance facility in Wilton, Connecticut. Plaintiff was a member of a union, and the terms of his employment were governed by a collective bargaining agreement.

         In December 2007 and January 2008, plaintiff sustained two minor injuries while on the job. After these injuries, plaintiff received a promotion and wage increase in both July 2008 and October 2008. On April 24, 2009, plaintiff injured his elbow while working on a bus. He reported the injury and sought medical treatment. His supervisor, Edward Lizotte, allegedly reacted to plaintiff's report with some hostility. Three days later, plaintiff was medically released to return to work but with some restrictions such as not lifting more than 10 pounds.

         Because of these restrictions, defendant assigned plaintiff to transitional duty. Transitional duty is defined by defendant's employee handbook as “a temporary process (up to 90 days) that allows employees to remain productive in the workforce while they regain their full capacity during the recovery/rehabilitation process.” Doc. #53-1 at 42. Plaintiff signed a form with this new assignment stating that “I also understand that Transitional Duty is temporary and not a permanent position and will last only until I am able to return to Full Duty without restriction but no longer than 90 days without additional company approval.” Id. at 44.

         While plaintiff was on transitional duty, Lizotte appeared angry with plaintiff and “micro-managed” and yelled at him. Plaintiff concedes, however, that Lizotte also yelled at other employees who were not injured.

         When plaintiff's transitional duty expired, defendant extended his transitional duty for another 90 days. On October 30, 2009, plaintiff completed his second round of transitional duty and was told that he had to stop working at the facility. He had not yet been released by his physician to return to full work without physical restrictions. Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim on February 3, 2010.

         Nearly three months later, on April 30, 2010, Lizotte sent plaintiff a letter stating in relevant part his understanding that plaintiff remained unable to work and that defendant intended to discharge plaintiff if he could not return to work to perform the essential functions of his job:

First [S]tudent records reflect that you have not been on active status since October 30, 2009. It is company policy to review the status of inactive employees after six (6) months and[, ] where warranted, administratively separate them from employment.
It is First Student's understanding that you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job, with or without reasonable accommodation. If this information is incorrect, please advise use no later than May 7, 2010. If we do not hear from you by this date, your employment with First Student will be administratively terminated at that time.

Doc. #53-1 at 51.

         Upon receiving this letter, plaintiff contacted Robert Flynn, his union representative. Flynn then wrote to defendant stating “[i]t is my position that when Mr. Konstantinides [sic] is released to return to work with no restrictions, he is returned with full seniority rights and all privileges he is entitled to under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, ” and that “[s]hould the Company not allow Mr. Konstantinides [sic] to return to duty at the time of his ...


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