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Francis v. Hartford Board of Education

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2017

Hartford Board of Education, Defendant.


          Robert N. Chatigny United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Yvonne Francis brings this action under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”), Title VII the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”) and the Connecticut's Workers' Compensation Act (“CWCA”). She alleges that defendant Hartford Board of Education subjected her to various adverse employment actions because of discrimination based on her disabilities and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination. Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims. For reasons that follow, that motion is granted.

         I. Background

         The parties' submissions show the following. West Middle School hired plaintiff as an Assistant Principal for the 2011-2012 school year based on the recommendation of Principal Sheilda Garrison. She and Garrison had disputes over compensation, food ordering for a holiday luncheon, and Garrison's request for documentation when plaintiff requested sick leave. On plaintiff's year-end evaluation, Garrison provided some positive feedback but requested that plaintiff participate in certain meetings, be more receptive to new ideas and practice better time management. At that time, plaintiff applied to other available administrative positions because she wanted to advance her career and felt the work environment with Garrison was not positive.

         On September 26, 2012, plaintiff sprained her shoulder while assisting a child who was having a temper tantrum. She was initially given medical restrictions limiting her from lifting her right arm. Her doctor later specifically restricted her from “lifting trays repeatedly.” (Adults typically had to help younger students lift trays in the cafeteria.) On November 28, 2012, she was fully released with no physical restrictions.

         While plaintiff was injured, she had a number of workplace disputes with Garrison. The day after her injury, she missed a scheduled meeting with Garrison after telling Garrison she would attend. According to plaintiff, Garrison gave her a hard time about leaving to attend physical therapy appointments and gave her unequal work assignments. Plaintiff missed another meeting and, as a result, was for several weeks uninformed about new proficiency goals at the school.

         In November 2012, plaintiff filed an internal complaint against Garrison for racially-motivated harassment. The Central Harassment team later found insufficient evidence to support plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff eventually came to believe Garrison harassed her because of her disability. After she filed the complaint, Garrison expressed dissatisfaction with plaintiff's behavior: in December 2012, plaintiff received a written warning for leaving the building unsupervised, and in January 2013, she received a mid-year evaluation that rated her as “Needs Improvement.”

         On January 14, 2013, plaintiff notified the school she had suffered another work-related injury. This time it was a knee injury - traumatic chrondomalacia of the patella - sustained on December 17 as a result of a fall. According to plaintiff, she continued treatment through February 2014 and was diagnosed with a 5% permanent impairment. Because of this injury, plaintiff requested workers' compensation and was on sick leave from January 9 through February 20.

         When plaintiff returned to work, she was directed to perform most of her work while seated and to avoid stairs. According to plaintiff, Garrison made it impossible to comply with these restrictions by moving her office to the basement. Because there were no classrooms on that floor, plaintiff could not do her job duties, including evaluating teachers. Eventually, she and Garrison came up with a plan for her to stay on one floor a day so she could perform evaluations.

         On March 18, 2013, Garrison formally reprimanded plaintiff for failure to fill out paperwork required for taking leave. Plaintiff responded with a letter stating that she had filled out the proper paperwork. She also accused Garrison of harassment and expressed the hope that it would be reflected in Garrison's evaluations. She copied Garrison's supervisor and the Director of Human Resources. Around this time, plaintiff was notified that her position was going to be eliminated. According to defendant, West Middle School was to be temporarily co-located with another school, resulting in a lower enrollment and no need for an Assistant Principal.

         On April 10, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”). Citing her shoulder and knee injuries, she complained that defendant denied her reasonable accommodations based on her disability.[1] Shortly thereafter, on April 12, 2013, plaintiff took another medical leave. Despite being released by her doctor on May 6, 2013, she did not return to work until June 17, 2013.

         Throughout May and into the summer of 2013, plaintiff was embroiled in several disputes. In early May 2013, Garrison wrote to plaintiff about her year-end evaluation. Plaintiff ignored offers to schedule an evaluation conference or provide information. Once again, Garrison rated her as “Needs Improvement.” Plaintiff refused to sign a copy of the evaluation or meet with Garrison. At the same time, Garrison requested that plaintiff return an iPad, laptop and cell phone owned by the district. Plaintiff failed to respond to these requests. Garrison enlisted Dr. Scott Nicol, Executive Director of Performance Management, to reach out to plaintiff about signing the evaluation and returning the district-owned items. He told her in writing and via email that her signature did not imply she agreed with the evaluation and asked her to attend a meeting to bring back the items. Plaintiff failed to respond to these requests and eventually filed a complaint with the Hartford Police Department accusing Dr. Nicol of harassment. She never signed the evaluation form but eventually returned the items.

         Because plaintiff's position was eliminated for the 2013-2014 school year, she sought a new administrative position in the district. At the end of the 2012-2013 school year there were over ten administrative positions. Plaintiff interviewed for one position but did not receive an offer. Due to her negative performance evaluations, she was not eligible for automatic placement in a new position. Defendant later demoted plaintiff to teacher and continued her 2013-2014 salary. Defendant cited her failure to follow the directives to sign her evaluation and failure to timely return the district's property.

         In July 2013, plaintiff filed a grievance over her placement as a teacher and her salary continuation. After a hearing, a neutral arbiter ruled that ...

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