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Sellers v. First Student, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 28, 2016

JIMMY SELLERS, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST STUDENT, INC., Defendant.

          RULING RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 20)

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is an action filed by plaintiff Jimmy Sellers (“Sellers”) against his former employer, defendant First Student, Inc. (“First Student”). See Second Am. Compl. (“Complaint”) (Doc. No. 14) ¶¶ 1-2, 7. Sellers's Complaint alleges employment discrimination in violation of section 2000e of title 42 of the United States Code (“Count 1”), section 1981 of title 42 of the United States Code (“Count 2”), section 46a-58 of the Connecticut General Statutes (“Count 3”), and section 46a-60 of the Connecticut General Statutes (“Count 4”), and further alleges several instances of defamation (“Count 5”). See Complaint ¶¶ 34-44.[1] Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), First Student has filed a Motion to Dismiss all five of Sellers's claims now pending before this court. See generally Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Motion”) (Doc. No. 20).

         For the reasons set forth below, First Student's motion is GRANTED with respect to Counts 1 and 2, and the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Sellers's remaining state law claims, Counts 3, 4, and 5.

         II. FACTS[2]

         Sellers is a sixty-one year-old, “black and African American” resident of Norwalk, Connecticut. Complaint ¶ 1. For thirty-three years-from 1980 until his May 29, 2013 termination-Sellers was employed by the predecessors of First Student, a school bus company, and eventually by First Student itself. Id. ¶ 7. Sellers maintained “an exemplary work record, ” and was disciplined just “3 to 4 times . . . [and never] for any type of threatening or aggressive behavior, until the end of his employment.” Id. ¶ 8.

         However, beginning in approximately April 2013, several of First Student's employees began implementing a plan to build a record against Sellers, so as to eventually terminate his employment because of his “color, race and age.” Id. ¶ 9; see also id. ¶¶ 15, 17, 21, 23, 28-30. These employees also hatched and implemented similar plans against several of Sellers's coworkers. See id. ¶ 10.

         On April 4, 2013, April Williams (“Williams”), First Student's Interim Safety manager, refused to help Sellers renew his Commercial Driver License (“CDL”), despite the fact that doing so was one of her duties. Id. ¶ 11. At no point did Sellers direct any inappropriate language at Williams. Id. ¶ 15. Williams is “African American and [was] 53 years old.” Id. ¶ 11.[3]

         Immediately following this “falling out, ” id., Sellers complained to Location Manager Elaine Reynolds (“Reynolds”) that Williams had acted unprofessionally in refusing to help him renew his CDL, id. ¶ 12. Reynolds was “Caucasian and 57 years old.” Id. ¶ 12. At some point, Sellers left Reynolds's office to retrieve a form related to renewing his CDL. Id. Reynolds took the opportunity, while Sellers was gone, to speak with Williams about what had taken place. See id. ¶ 13. When Sellers returned with the form, Reynolds told Sellers that Williams claimed he had used foul language during their earlier interaction. See id. Sellers insisted he had not done so, and left the office, thinking the situation was resolved. Id. ¶ 14.

         Sellers did not hear anything more about the events of April 4, 2013, until Reynolds wrote Sellers a letter on April 10, 2013. Id. ¶ 16. Reynolds claimed that Sellers “threw several papers on [her] desk & made a comment about how [he] figured [ ] out” how to renew his CDL himself. Id. The letter also asserted that Sellers “[was] not very respectful toward” Reynolds. Id.

         Later that same day, Sellers's immediate supervisor Stephen Brust (“Brust”) called a meeting to discuss Williams's and Reynolds's claims. Id. ¶ 18. Brust is “Caucasian, [and was] Age: 41.” Id. In addition to Brust and Sellers, Reynolds and the union steward attended the meeting. Presiding over the meeting, Brust began by informing Sellers that Williams and Reynolds claimed Sellers acted inappropriately on April 4. Id. ¶ 20. Brust then brought forward a document, containing Williams's and Reynolds's allegations, and asked Sellers to sign it. Id. Sellers refused, telling Brust that he disputed the allegations contained in the letter, and therefore would not sign it. Id. In response, “since [Sellers] was not going to sign it, ” Brust informed Sellers that he was suspended until further notice. Id. ¶ 21. Although Sellers asked Brust for his suspension letter, Brust told him to leave right away and that he would receive the letter later. Id. Sellers never received the suspension letter. Id.

         More than two weeks later, on April 29, 2014, First Student “issued a final warning letter.” Id. ¶ 23. The letter articulated First Student's position that Sellers would have to “complete anger management classes, serve a three day suspension and acknowledge the receipt of a final warning letter, ” before he would be reinstated. Id.

         Immediately after the suspension was announced, Sellers's union, Teamsters, Local 191, began discussions with First Student in an effort to lessen the discipline to which Sellers would be subject. Id. ¶ 24. On May 17, 2013, Robert Flynn (“Flynn”), the Business Agent for Sellers's union, informed Reynolds that Sellers would not comply with the conditions articulated in the April 29 letter. Id. ¶ 25. Four days later, Flynn expressed the union's position-“that the termination of the Plaintiff's employment had been prompted by the Plaintiff's refusal to accept the requirements set forth in the April 29, 2013 letter”-to Vincent Cappiello (“Cappiello”), First Student's Area General Manager. Id. ¶ 26.

         On May 29, 2013, Sellers was officially terminated, id. ¶ 27; he had been suspended from April 10 until his termination, id. ¶ 22. The termination letter Sellers received from Cappiello “stated . . . that Plaintiff's refusal to accept the requirements sets [sic] forth in the April 29, 2013 letter” was the reason his employment was terminated. Id. ¶ 27.

         Meanwhile, also in 2013, two of Sellers's African American coworkers were terminated. See id. ¶ 31-32. Morris Asbury, approximately 70 years old, was employed by First Student beginning in 1984. Id. ¶ 31. He was terminated for “the pre-textual reason that he did not put a steering wheel cover on one of the buses.” Id. Similarly, Max Chervil, around 55 years old, was employed by First Student from 2000 until 2013, when he was terminated and “given the pre-textual reason that he was not wearing safety glasses (on his day off).” Id. ¶ 32. Other First Student employees were terminated at around the same time based on their age, race, and color. Id. ¶ 33.

         III. ...


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