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DeAngelis v. City of Bridgeport

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 5, 2017

CITY OF BRIDGEPORT, et al., Defendants.


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Carla DeAngelis worked for the City of Bridgeport as a “telecommunicator” to answer emergency phone calls. She has filed this lawsuit against the City and three of her supervisors at the emergency call center alleging claims for discrimination and retaliation relating to her gender and sexual orientation. She also alleges a wide range of other federal and state law claims based on essentially the same facts. Defendants have now moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, I will grant defendants' motion as to most of plaintiff's claims, but deny it with respect to her claims of gender discrimination, retaliation, and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.


         The following facts are either not disputed or, where disputed, are presented in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. Between February 2012 and December 2013, Plaintiff worked for defendant City of Bridgeport as a telecommunicator at the City's Public Safety and Communications Center (the “Center”). Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit against the City as well as against individual defendants including Dorie Price, who was director of the Center, Anthony P. D'Onofrio, Jr., who was plaintiff's supervisor, and Debra Deida, who was a training officer at the Center.

         As part of her work, plaintiff was required to answer emergency calls and help respond to them, such as by asking the caller for information and assisting in the dispatch of the City's emergency services. Plaintiff was an employee whose peers and supervisors characterized her as knowledgeable, positive, and easy to work with. See, e.g., Doc. #49-7 at 6.

         While all parties acknowledge that an emergency call center can be a stressful work environment, plaintiff has adduced evidence going beyond usual workplace stress. Plaintiff and her coworkers attested that D'Onofrio was extremely aggressive toward women subordinates in the office, routinely yelling at them and getting into arguments with them, and then following them around in the office or even outside to continue arguing. Doc. #49-4 at 40-42; Doc. #49-5 at 64-66; Doc. #49-6 at 21. And while D'Onofrio would be confrontational verbally with male employees, he would not physically pursue them through the halls or outside as he did with women. Doc. #49-5 at 64-66.

         Women were also treated differently by the supervisors when it came to disciplinary rules like dealing with mistakes made on calls or the enforcement of rules surrounding break times. A woman making an error on a call would be yelled at by a supervisor repeatedly, while a man would be relieved and allowed to take a break. Doc. #49-5 at 60-62. Men would also be put on less strenuous overtime shifts. Id. at 62. And men would be treated more leniently when it came to break time; they would be allowed to leave frequently and be gone for long stretches, while women would be asked who gave them permission for the break and the exact times they began and ended the breaks. Id. at 68-69.

         D'Onofrio, who maintained a sign-out system for breaks in which employees signed up for break time in advance on two separate sheets, used the system “to single women out, ” behaving volatilely toward women and not letting them go to the bathroom, but not bothering men regarding the sign-out requirement. Doc. #49-4 at 52. D'Onofrio was not the only defendant whom female employees perceived as harassing them with disciplinary write-ups; one coworker claimed that she had experienced being harassed by Price to the point where she didn't want to come to work. Doc. #49-5 at 97.

         In addition to this evidence about the working environment in general, plaintiff points to specific incidents that occurred between March and November 2013. In March of 2013, plaintiff was on duty and received a call regarding a head trauma. Doc. #49-4 at 16. D'Onofrio was supervising at that time, but was not wearing his headset that allowed him to listen to the calls as they were coming in. Id. at 18. D'Onofrio believed plaintiff was mismanaging the call, and he walked over to her and began interrupting her and asking her why she was directing the call the way she was. Plaintiff told him she could not talk to him at that moment and continued handling the call. Id. at 20. D'Onofrio yelled at plaintiff, but she ignored him to focus on the call. Id. at 24.

         Two weeks after the call, D'Onofrio ordered plaintiff into the supervisor's office. Doc. #49-4 at 25. Apparently in reference to plaintiff's tone when she responded to him during the call, D'Onofrio said “the only time you should answer me like that is when I am grabbing you by the neck and shaking you.” Ibid. Plaintiff was shaken by the comment, and she felt physically threatened by D'Onofrio. Ibid.[1]

         Later in April, plaintiff came to believe that another employee, Tammy Cowette, had made a mistake in how she had arranged the schedule, and asked Cowette to show plaintiff how she had come up with the arrangement. Doc. #49-3 at 13. Cowette declined, and plaintiff said, under her breath, “this is fucking ridiculous.” Ibid.; Doc. #49-4 at 67. Cursing was frequent in plaintiff's workplace. Doc. #27-5 at 177. D'Onofrio approached the two of them, and told plaintiff “if you think you have any right to look at this schedule, you're ignorant.” Doc. #49-4 at 39. D'Onofrio's manner was aggressive, and he was speaking loud enough for everyone else in the call center to hear; Cowette told him to calm down. Ibid.

         The next day, plaintiff went to the cafeteria on a lunch break after she had signed out on one of the break sheets. Doc. #49-4 at 42-43. D'Onofrio, who monitored plaintiff's comings and goings, followed her into the cafeteria and got so close to plaintiff that she thought he was going to hit her. He yelled at plaintiff, and ordered her to go out and sign out on a second break sheet. Ibid.; Doc. #49-3 at 15. Plaintiff left the cafeteria and signed the sheet. #49-4 at 43. She then submitted a grievance about the incident that also discussed the incidents described in the previous two paragraphs. Doc. #27-5 at 26-27. The grievance described D'Onofrio as engaging in “intimidation” and “professional bullying, ” and described his behavior as “personally alarming” and “threatening.” Ibid. Plaintiff was in a great deal of stress due to D'Onofrio's treatment, and she left work for several days due to abdominal pains. Doc. #49-3 at 15.

         On the morning of July 26, plaintiff was informed by her union steward that she was supposed to be at ¶ 10:00 A.M. hearing that same day; plaintiff had not been scheduled to work until 4:00 P.M., and she had not previously been informed about the hearing. Doc. #49-4 at 70- 71. Defendant Price was present at the hearing; D'Onofrio and Cowette were not. The hearing was a disciplinary hearing regarding plaintiff's cursing during her interaction with Cowette regarding the work schedule. Doc. #49-3 at 16; Doc. #27-5 at 75. Plaintiff admitted that she had cursed, but said it was not directed at Cowette. Doc. #27-5 at 85. Plaintiff also raised D'Onofrio's aggressive behavior during the hearing twice, but she was rebuffed. Id. at 95, 99. Plaintiff was given a five-day suspension. Doc. #49-4 at 75. Price hand-delivered the suspension letter to plaintiff while she was at work, in view of her coworkers. Id. at 80. Afterward, Price laughed at plaintiff and stayed near plaintiff for several hours, leering at and monitoring her. Id. at 91.

         On July 31, plaintiff was notified that she was being investigated for a claim made against her by Price. Id. at 86-87. Price had falsely claimed that after delivering the suspension letter to plaintiff, plaintiff had tried to intimidate her. Doc. #27-5 at 73; Doc. #49-4 at 89. The investigation did not result in discipline against plaintiff. Doc. #49-4 at 90. Yet plaintiff felt threatened by Price's false complaint, and so several days later, in early August, plaintiff met with an investigator with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) to report the treatment she had been subjected to at work. Ibid.

         On September 16, D'Onofrio once again came into the break room and screamed at plaintiff for not properly signing out. Doc. #49-4 at 49-50. D'Onofrio had been calling plaintiff names and following her around for months, and his aggressive approach in the break room made plaintiff “physically afraid.” Id. at 55. Plaintiff told D'Onofrio that she had already signed out, and when he continued to scream at plaintiff, she told him to “back the fuck off.” Ibid. D'Onofrio then told plaintiff “[h]ave it your way. We're going to do this the hard way.” Id. at 58. Plaintiff told D'Onofrio that she had “a stack of documents at city hall regarding your behavior and harassment of me . . . Leave me alone or I'm going to go over your head and I'm going to pursue getting you fired for harassing and chasing me.” Id. at 56.

         Later that day, plaintiff submitted an additional grievance to her union regarding D'Onofrio's behavior. Id. at 57; Doc. #27-5 at 209. In her grievance, she said that the day's events were identical to complaints that she had formally discussed with the CHRO, and that she had scheduled a hearing with the CHRO “to pursue these matters and protect [herself] . . . from intimidation, harassment and discrimination.” Doc. #27-5 at 209. She did not mention her gender or sexual orientation in the grievance. Id. at 209-10.

         A few days later, plaintiff met with defendant Deida. Plaintiff asked Deida to help get D'Onofrio to leave plaintiff alone so she could feel safe and do her job. Doc. #49-4 at 59-60. Deida asked plaintiff for information about D'Onofrio regarding his behavior, his job performance, and the names of others whom he had harassed. Id. at 64-65. Plaintiff answered many of her questions but did not disclose the names of others. Ibid. Shortly thereafter, Deida wrote up a disciplinary warning to plaintiff regarding absences over the prior year. Doc. #49-9 at 94. Deida later asked again for similar information, but plaintiff had been advised by her union representatives not to pass along any written complaints to Deida, and so plaintiff refrained from doing so. Doc. #49-3 at 19. On October 8, Deida delivered a memorandum to plaintiff stating that because plaintiff had not given her the requested documentation she was closing the case. Doc. #27-5 at 124.

         On November 15, D'Onofrio and Deida called plaintiff in to the supervisor's office. Believing she was going to be disciplined, plaintiff went to get her union representative, Rita Marcus. Doc. #49-3 at 20. D'Onofrio wanted to discuss an incident that he claimed happened on November 9; D'Onofrio had written up an incident description alleging that upon hearing D'Onofrio and another employee discuss scheduling, plaintiff stated “[t]his place is fucking ridiculous, ” similar to the statement in April that she had been disciplined for. Doc. #27-5 at 126.

         Plaintiff maintains that the November 9 incident never happened. Doc. #49-4 at 93-94. At the November 15 meeting, plaintiff asked D'Onofrio for corroborating details, such as the time, who any witnesses were, and why he had not talked to her when it had occurred. D'Onofrio could supply no further details. Id. at 95.

         Plaintiff became upset and she asked Deida “[w]hen are we going to put an end to this?” Id. at 100. Plaintiff referred to the accusation against her as a “witch hunt, ” and declared “I've had enough of this.” Id. at 101. She then said to D'Onofrio, “I'm going to get you. I'm going to get you fired.” Ibid. After the meeting, plaintiff returned to her work station and continued to work for several hours; she was instructed to work an additional four hours that evening, and to come in the following day early to work extra hours before her regular shift. Doc. #49-3 at 20. D'Onofrio was also scheduled to work the next day's shift. Ibid.

         After going home that day, D'Onofrio went to the Bridgeport Police Department and told the police that he felt threatened by plaintiff. Doc. #27-4 at 183. He told an officer there that he was afraid to go back to work because he was afraid plaintiff would hurt him. Doc. #49-6 at 64. D'Onofrio said that he had communicated his fears to Price, and she had told him to make a police report. Ibid. The police later spoke with Deida and Price, who both also told them that plaintiff made them fear for their safety at work. Id. at 78.

         Two Bridgeport police officers went to the call center to speak with plaintiff. Id. at 65- 66. An officer and Price came to plaintiff on the call center floor, Doc. #49-4 at 114, and plaintiff proceeded to go into a conference room, accompanied by her union representative, to discuss the incident with one of the officers. Ibid. One of the officers told plaintiff that Price had insisted on having her arrested, but that they were not going to do that. Id. at 116. The police issued a summons to plaintiff for disorderly conduct. Doc. #49-6 at 84. One of the officers said he “had to” issue the summons because Price “wouldn't let down . . . wouldn't back down” on her insistence that plaintiff should be arrested. Doc. #49-4 at 116-17. Plaintiff was put on paid administrative leave and required to hand over her badge and locker key. Doc. #27-6 at 118.

         Ten days later, plaintiff met with labor relations officer Phil White for an investigative interview. Doc. #49-9 at 38. Plaintiff and White discussed the events of November 15, and plaintiff recounted her version of events as well as prior incidents of harassment by D'Onofrio. Id. at 40-57. White referred to plaintiff's description of past incidents as “wild allegations.” Id. at 67. Plaintiff also reported what she said was a “commonplace joke on the job, that . . . D'Onofrio may come in armed some day and shoot the building up like the Navy Yard in Washington.” Doc. #49-9 at 62-63. White noted that this was a “very serious allegation, ” and he asked plaintiff to provide names of others who had said that. Plaintiff declined. Id. at 63.

         White also interviewed Marcus, plaintiff's union representative, who referred to the police visit as “intimidat[ion]” of plaintiff. Doc. #27-5 at 169. Marcus also stated that cursing happened frequently in the office-with “every other word” being a curse word at times-and opined that it was “harassment” to go after plaintiff. Id. at 177. Marcus corroborated that plaintiff threatened D'Onofrio with legal action, not with bodily harm. Id. at 170-71.

         On December 16, White held another hearing with plaintiff and informed her that she was being charged with insubordination for her failure to provide the names of others who had repeated the “commonplace joke” regarding D'Onofrio's potential for violence. Doc. #49-9 at 25. At the hearing, plaintiff gave two names, and she said that she had been hesitant ...

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