United States District Court, D. Connecticut
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
W. EGINTON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action, plaintiff Lisa Boutillier alleges that defendant
Hartford Public Schools discriminated and retaliated against
her based on her sexual orientation and physical disability
in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act
(“CFEPA”) (Counts I-III); discriminated against
her based on her sexual orientation in violation of Title VII
(Count IV); discriminated against her based on her disability
in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as
amended (Count V); and constructively discharged her in
violation of Connecticut law (Count VI).
has moved for summary judgment on all claims. For the
following reasons, defendant's motion will be granted in
part and denied in part.
following facts are gleaned from the parties' statements
of fact, affidavits, deposition transcripts, and other
commenced employment with the Hartford Board of Education at
the Noah Webster Microsociety Magnet School (“Noah
Webster”) at the start of the 2006-2007 school year.
She was recommended for hire to a sixth grade mathematics
position by then principal Dee Cole. Within a few days of
starting, plaintiff was moved to a fourth grade position.
Days later, plaintiff was again moved to a kindergarten
position, where she taught during the 2006-2007 school year.
Cole was plaintiff's direct supervisor.
also recommended plaintiff's spouse, Ginene Branch, for
hire at Noah Webster.
last day of staff development before the 2006-2007 school
year began, Cole informed plaintiff that Noah Webster was
overstaffed. Cole gave Branch and plaintiff the choice as to
which one wanted to stay at Noah Webster and which one wanted
to move to a fourth grade science position at Hooker
Elementary School. Plaintiff contends that Cole called
plaintiff and Branch into her office with both of their
resumes in front of her and saw that they went to the same
art school, moved together, and taught at the same schools
for almost 30 years, implicating Cole's knowledge of
their relationship. Cole admits that it was unusual to allow
two teachers to decide between themselves who would stay and
who would go. Moreover, plaintiff asserts that it was well
known among staff and parents at Noah Webster that she was
gay and that Branch and plaintiff were a couple. When asked
at deposition about knowledge of plaintiff's relationship
with Branch, Cole responded: “I never learned that. I
didn't know that. That was never part of any knowledge
that I knew, nor did I care to know.” However, vice
principal Vernice Duke, who worked alongside Cole for three
years, stated in October 2012 that, “[plaintiff's]
relationship with Ginene is not a problem and is known to
everyone at the school. This has not been an issue with her
peers nor with administration.”
chose to move to Hooker, and plaintiff stayed at Noah
Webster. Plaintiff asserts that Cole told Branch that she
would have first rights to return to Noah Webster when a
position became available, but Cole maintains that she merely
told Branch that she was welcome to apply for future
spoke to her union representative, Sue Frazer, concerned that
she had been “outed” as gay by another teacher.
Plaintiff asserts that Frazer warned her to ‘watch her
back.' Shortly after Branch left the school, a position
opened at Noah Webster. When plaintiff approached Cole about
the possibility of Branch filling the position, plaintiff
alleges that Cole became very angry and stated,
“Don't you tell me who to hire.” Cole
disputes making an agreement for Branch's return and
testified, “That's not how it works anyway.”
Branch never returned to Noah Webster.
contends that Cole knew she was gay at the start of the
2006-2007 school year. At the end of that year, Cole rated
plaintiff as “excellent” in her evaluation.
Nevertheless, plaintiff maintains that Cole's treatment
of her caused her to stop speaking at staff meetings. Another
teacher's statement, taken as part of a subsequent
internal investigation, corroborates plaintiff's
perception of abrupt treatment at staff meetings.
2007-2008 school year, plaintiff moved to teaching first
grade. Plaintiff questioned the placement of a difficult
student in her classroom because she had endured a similarly
difficult student in her classroom the year before. Plaintiff
asserts that Cole became angry and berated plaintiff in front
of other staff.
alleges that when parents were upset that the bulk of
behavioral problem students were placed in plaintiff's
classroom, Cole accused her of improperly communicating to
parents about other students' behavioral problems.
Plaintiff denied sharing information and reported that the
concerned parents were “room mothers” who were
regularly present in the classroom. Cole allegedly announced
to plaintiff that, “If you do anything that I consider
to be unprofessional, it will be grounds for immediate
meeting among Cole, plaintiff, and union representative Sue
Frazer, Cole allegedly stated, “[Plaintiff] is an
outstanding educator and outstanding first grade teacher.
This is personal.”
rated plaintiff as “competent, ” the second
highest rating for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years.
the 2008-2009 school year, plaintiff was given a verbal
warning for sharing confidential student information with
parents; plaintiff denies doing so and testified that she was
falsely accused. Plaintiff alleges that in November 2008,
Cole screamed at plaintiff and refused to hear her
explanation after an incident involving a student who
repeatedly hit plaintiff, leaving her badly bruised. Cole
wrote up a warning document about the student, but plaintiff
asserts that she did not see the document until she reviewed
her personnel file years later.
parties disagree about how many times plaintiff applied for
alternative positions during her tenure. She was not hired
for any alternative positions to which she applied.
Duke assumed the part-time assistant principal position and
became plaintiff's evaluator at Noah Webster at the start
of the 2009-2010 school year. Duke evaluated plaintiff as
“competent” for the 2009-2010 school year and
noted no areas of weakness in plaintiff's teaching. The
evaluation did designate several areas for growth and
alleges that during the summer of 2010, she and Branch
encountered Duke, who upon seeing their wedding rings made a
“nasty” face, indicative of disapproval. In
response to this accusation, Duke stated that, “I had
just gotten back from knee surgery. If I had any facial
expressions not to their liking, it could have been from
being in pain after having a knee replacement. I don't
even think that to this date [October 23, 2012], I have even
seen their wedding bands.”
asserts that plaintiff was awarded tenure as of August 28,
2010, but plaintiff responds that despite the regular
practice of notifying teachers in writing upon granting of
tenure, she was never notified in writing and has no
information on how or when tenure was awarded.
rated plaintiff as “competent” for the 2010-2011
asserts that during a performance evaluation meeting she
confronted and accused Duke of discriminating against her
because of her sexual orientation. Duke denies this.
Duke's statement, taken as part of the district's
internal investigation, provides, “I have never had a
conversation about [plaintiff's] sexual preferences with
plaintiff.” Yet, remarkably, as part of that same
statement, Duke provides:
[Plaintiff] said to me that she usually does not tell people
about her situation. Then she went on to explain that her
significant other was a female. This conversation took place
during her second year of working with me. I said to her that
this had nothing to do with the performance of her job and
that she was entitled to a private life just [like] everyone
else. To go even further, [plaintiff] introduced me to [her
spouse, Branch, ] at some point.
August 2011, prior to the start of the school year, plaintiff
suffered a medical issue that resulted in absence for the
first half of the school year. Plaintiff contends that after
notifying the district of her need for treatment for an
embolism and a hysterectomy, Cole misled parents by telling
them that plaintiff would not be returning to teach at Noah
Webster, citing a “personnel matter” rather than
informing the parents that plaintiff was on approved medical
leave. A parent of one of plaintiff's students submitted
an affidavit indicating the same. The parent was surprised to
subsequently learn that plaintiff was ill, as from the
parent's perspective, Cole had implied that there was a
“disciplinary reason” for plaintiff's
her absence, plaintiff alleges that Duke called her at home,
demanding to know her medical status and what medications she
was taking. Plaintiff proffers that after she complained to
Elaine Bonfiglio in human resources, Duke's calls
stopped, but plaintiff maintains that Duke chastised her
about her plans to return to Noah Webster with the risk of
falling ill in front of the students.
the fact that plaintiff's doctor only once extended
plaintiff's medical leave, Cole complained at deposition
that “plaintiff was coming back several times and
didn't come back. . . . Again, coming back, not coming
back, coming back, not coming back.”
Jen Wight was reassigned from her resource position to take
over plaintiff's classroom in plaintiff's absence.
Plaintiff returned to work in January 2012. As some point
prior to plaintiff's return, Wight also went on medical
leave. Plaintiff protests that despite her seniority and
despite the fact that the class was originally assigned to
her, Wight was given priority upon return in January and
remained in the first grade position for the remainder of the
2011-2012 school year. Plaintiff was assigned a resource
reading position for first and second grade students.
Plaintiff testified that upon her return, Cole's
assistant, Iris Febles-Martinez, told plaintiff that she had
been “replaced” by Cole and was therefore not
entitled to receive teacher dollar cards and teaching
contends that the resource reading position was created upon
her return; it required her to create new curriculum and
travel around the school even though plaintiff's doctor
had notified Cole in writing that plaintiff “has been
suffering from profound fatigue and decreased activity
tolerance (ex: climbing one flight of stairs can cause her
shortness of breath which requires a few minutes to
recover).” The letter continues: “Though her
medical conditions are gradually stabilizing, her activity
level and endurance are very much limited but certainly
February 7, 2012, after an allegedly heated meeting with
Duke, which concluded with Duke yelling at plaintiff to get
her backpack out of Duke's sight, plaintiff collapsed to
the ground and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
requested and received 20 paid sick days from the teacher
sick bank. On her request for sick bank leave she stated that
she had collapsed due to “severe fatigue, exhaustion
and syncope ... [which was] the direct result of the
pulmonary embolism that I had developed in August
returned to work on March 12, 2012, in accordance with her
plaintiff's return to work on March 12, 2012, she was
placed in a kindergarten classroom to cover for a teacher who
was absent due to injury.
25, 2012, plaintiff had car trouble and called out for a
personal day. Plaintiff contends that Duke called her at home
demanding that she report to work. Plaintiff rented a car and
drove to school. Plaintiff reported Duke's call to her
union representative. Duke asserts that she called plaintiff
at home out of mere courtesy to prevent plaintiff from
missing out on her paycheck.
30, 2012, plaintiff requested permission from Duke to leave
school grounds to run an errand at a nearby store. Duke
granted plaintiff permission but reminded her of her
obligation to “sign out.” A third party, Ms.
Carreiro, was in Duke's office at the time and provided a
statement about the incident, describing Duke's manner as
abrupt with plaintiff to an extent that Carreiro became
“very uncomfortable.” Carreiro also reported that
Duke's unprofessional treatment of plaintiff was unique.
The school's executive assistant later informed Duke that
plaintiff neglected to sign out. Plaintiff testified that she
decided to forgo the errand, as the school cafeteria stocked
the item she sought. Nevertheless, Cole and Duke met with
plaintiff that same afternoon. Plaintiff asserts that upon
arrival to Cole's office, she was informed that she was
to be disciplined for failure to sign out before leaving
school grounds. She alleges that after she attempted to
explain that she did not sign out because she did not leave
the building, Cole and Duke began screaming at her. When
plaintiff asked for a union representative, plaintiff
contends that she was told to shut up and sit down. Defendant
asserts that the primary purpose of the meeting was to inform
plaintiff that she would be assigned, as requested, to teach
became ill after the meeting. The school nurse contacted Duke
to inform her of the medical emergency and called 911. The
paramedics along with Duke and Cole met plaintiff in the
school gymnasium. Plaintiff was transported from the school
by ambulance. She did not return for the final weeks of the
2011-2012 school year.
testified that neither her sister nor her spouse were
informed of her medical emergency. Branch, plaintiff's
spouse, affirmed the lack of notification. Nevertheless, Duke
reported that “family members were contacted.”
None have been identified. Cole claims that she purposefully
waited for Branch to arrive at school after plaintiff was
taken by the ambulance so that Branch could collect
plaintiff's belongings, but no one asserts that Branch
was ever summoned. Moreover, plaintiff contends that she was
not notified by the school that she was apparently ineligible
for health insurance benefits because of FMLA hours-worked
learning that her physician had been told that she was no
longer employed and had no health insurance, plaintiff went
to the human resources office, where she asserts that she was
handed a letter explaining that her health insurance would
expire on July 1, 2012. Branch then demanded that the
district add plaintiff to her health benefits as her spouse.
This request was granted. Plaintiff contends that defendant
has failed to produce records as to its policy on eliminating
health insurance for teachers out on medical leave.
primary care physician, Rashma Jhunja, MD, and psychologist,
Marc J. Mann, PhD, began notifying the school district of the
negative impacts on plaintiff's health due to the
allegedly hostile work environment created by Cole and Duke.
No evidence has been produced to suggest that the school
district investigated the reports of hostile work environment
as described by Dr. Jhunja or Dr. Mann.
21, 2012, subsequent to receiving a medical note for
plaintiff's leave of absence, the district sent plaintiff
a letter asking whether she was claiming to have a disability
under the ADA or Connecticut law. The same day, defendant
sent plaintiff a copy of the harassment policy and a
harassment report form.
17, 2012, plaintiff filed an internal harassment complaint
against Duke and Cole.
19, 2012, the district received medical documentation which
stated: “Though Lisa has had decreased endurance and
has been limited in her activities through her prolonged
recovery period, as of the present time she is medically
cleared to resume her work in full capacity with her baseline
level of activity and endurance.” Plaintiff met with a
district investigator regarding her complaint, where she read
a prepared statement, but she declined to continue meeting
with the investigator after retaining counsel.
Plaintiff's counsel indicated to the district by letter
dated September 12, 2012, that plaintiff had fulfilled her
obligations under the district's Harassment Policy.
September 21, 2012, plaintiff filed a complaint with the
Connecticut Commission ...