United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS
Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.
Robert Beamon brought this action against Defendant Yale-New
Haven Hospital, Inc. ("YNHH") alleging employment
discrimination based on race in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act (Count One), retaliation in violation of
Title VII (Count Two), retaliation in violation of the Family
Medical Leave Act (Count Three), and retaliation in violation
of § 31-51a of the Connecticut General Statutes (Count
Four). Defendant now moves [Doc. # 24] to dismiss Count Four.
For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is granted.
alleges the following facts in his Amended Complaint [Doc. #
20]. He had been employed by Defendant since November 2011 as
a surgical technician and had a productive work record
through 2014. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8.) On June 5, 2014
he assisted with a brain surgery on a seven-year-old child.
(Id. ¶ 9.) During the procedure, Plaintiff
"reached over to grab a line as part of his normal
process," but was elbowed by the surgeon, Dr. Derek
Steinbacher (the "Doctor"). (Id.
¶¶ 10, 13-14.) Plaintiff initially thought the
contact was accidental, but when he "attempted to
connect the line again, Dr. Steinbacher physically interfered
again, but this time a bit harder." (Id.
¶¶ 14-15.) Finally, when Plaintiff attempted to
connect the line a third time, "Dr. Steinbacher jabbed
him hard in his abdomen," after which Plaintiff yelled
to ask what Dr. Steinbacher thought he was doing and
requested that he not hit him again. (Id ¶ 19.)
At that point, the Facilitating Nurse in the room "asked
the Plaintiff to back away from the field [and] not to pass
Dr. Steinbacher any scalpel blades" and after being
relieved by another technologist, Plaintiff and the nurse
left the operating room. (Id.)
reported the assault to the Charge Nurse and Department
Manager, after which he met with the Medical Director of
Peri-Operative Services and the Patient Services Manager for
Peri-Operative Services. (Id. ¶¶ 11,
18-19.) He was reportedly advised that "it would be best
for him to 'forget' the incident." (Id.
¶ 19.) At some point thereafter, Plaintiff learned that
Dr. Steinbacher had "verbally assaulted" minority
coworkers in the past, and that "there were concerns
regarding his anger and inappropriate behavior in other
contexts." (Id.) Five days after the
incident, Plaintiff "reported the patient safety issue,
. . . Dr. Steinbacher's assault and the lack of response
from [YNHH] up to that point" to YNHH's CEO, Vice
President of Compliance, and Chief of Staff, along with
Plaintiffs manager and Human Resources. (Id. ¶
22.) Plaintiffs email stated: "I understand that the
Hospital may lose money if a surgeon has to be put on leave
or dismissed but the patients['] safety and that of
employees who work at this Hospital should supersede
that." (Id. ¶ 30.)
response to this report, Plaintiff was advised that an
investigation was underway. However, Dr. Steinbacher was not
placed on leave and was permitted to continue performing
surgeries. (Id. ¶ 23.) "Based on the
situation, [Plaintiff] consulted with his physician and was
placed on a leave of absence pending the outcome of the
investigation" because he "was uncomfortable
participating in surgical procedures with a surgeon who was
unable to physically control himself and make the
patient's safety and well-being the priority."
(Id. ¶ 24.) During his absence, Plaintiff
"made multiple inquiries of the Hospital [Human
Resources] department and the management team regarding the
investigation," including "his concerns regarding
safety of employees and patients and the assault, but was
either ignored or told that the investigation was
ongoing." (Id. ¶ 25.)
17, 2014 Plaintiff suggested that his concerns were not being
taken seriously because of his race (id. ¶ 6,
25), and on June 19 he reiterated his distress about Dr.
Steinbacher's continued presence at the hospital
(id. ¶ 30). More than a month later, on July
31,2014, Defendant terminated Plaintiffs employment because
he supposedly had not completed the paperwork required to
take a leave of absence. (Id. ¶ 26-27.)
Although Plaintiff explained "that he still needed
information from his employer to complete the FMLA paperwork
and that he was simply following the directions that
Defendant's FMLA administrators had provided him,"
his request for reconsideration was denied. (Id.
Connecticut General Statutes Section 31-51q
Count Four, Plaintiff alleges that "Defendant's
conduct in subjecting Plaintiff to discipline and discharge
constitutes a violation of § 31-51 q of the Connecticut
General Statutes."(Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) Section 31-51q
extends the protections of the First Amendment to private
sector employees and imposes liability on private employers,
in addition to government employers. See Schumann v.
Dianon Sys., Inc., 304 Conn. 585, 599
(2012). In order to benefit from protection of the
statute, an employee's expression must have been both on
a matter of public concern and motivated by a desire to speak
out as a citizen. Cotto v. United Technologies
Corp., 251 Conn. 1,17 (1999).
employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern
when the speech can 'be fairly considered as relating to
any matter of political, social or other concern to the
community.'" DiMartino v. Richens, 263
Conn. 639, 667 (2003) (quoting Connick v. Myers 461
U.S. 138, 150 (1983)); see also City of San Diego, Cal.
v. Roe, 543 U.S. 77, 83-84 (2004)
("[P]ublic concern is something that is a subject of
legitimate news interest; that is, a subject of general
interest and of value and concern to the public at the time
of publication."). The critical question is whether the
employee's speech was calculated to redress personal
grievances or whether it had a broader public purpose.
Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 189 (2d
Cir. 2008); see also Cappiello v. Fitzsimmons, No.
CV030478253S, 2005 WL 2009569, at *5 (Conn. Super. Ct. Aug.
3,2005) (Section "31-51q applies to situations where the
employee is motivated to champion the rights of others as a
concerned citizen rather than airing a personal
grievance.")). It is a court's responsibility to
determine, as a matter of law, which topics are considered to
be of public concern. Daley, 249 Conn, at 782;
see also Munafo v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 285 F.3d
201, 211 (2d Cir. 2002) ("The issue of whether the
plaintiff has asserted a violation of a constitutional right
at all is a purely legal question.") (internal quotation
marks omitted). But, it is within the province of the jury to
determine whether an employee's statements address such a
topic by "looking to the content, form and context of
the particular statements in question." Daley v.
Aetna Life & Cas. Co., 249 Conn. 766, 782 (1999)
(citing Connick, 461 U.S. at 147-48).
argues that Plaintiff cannot meet the threshold "public
concern" requirement of Section 31-51q because his
claims are "clearly personal in nature, arising from a
single, isolated event purportedly occurring in YNHH's
operating room on June 5, 2014" and therefore that
Plaintiffs Count Four must be dismissed. Plaintiff, however,
contends that his "memorandum expressing safety concerns
constitutes an exercise of free expression guaranteed by the
First Amendment to the United States Constitution and
Sections 3, 4 and 14 of Article First of the Constitution of
the State of Connecticut." (Am. Compl. ¶ 33.)
Therefore, the question posed by this motion to dismiss is
whether, as a matter of law, Plaintiffs speech as alleged in
the Complaint plausibly relates to a topic of public concern
protected by Section 31-51q.
Plaintiffs Complaint Alleges Only a Single Isolated Workplace
claims his speech is protected because it pertained both to
employee and patient safety, both of which he asserts are
topics of public concern. Defendant recognizes that in some
circumstances patient and employee safety in a hospital may
be a matter of public concern, but argues that in this case,
Plaintiffs speech was purely personal in nature because his
Complaint "details [only] a single encounter on June 5,
2014 during which Dr. Derek Steinbacher supposedly
'elbowed' and 'jabbed' [Plaintiff] in the
operating room." (Def.'s Reply at 2.) The focus of
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss then, is on the personal
nature of the speech, which Defendant posits cannot