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Heyward v. Judicial Department of State of Connecticut

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 19, 2017


          Argued October 10, 2017

          Eddie Z. Zyko, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

          Ann E. Lynch, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (named defendant).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Keller and Pellegrino, Js.


          PELLEGRINO, J.

         In this action arising out of alleged workplace discrimination, the plaintiff Theresa D. S. Heyward appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendant Judicial Department of the state of Connecticut.[1] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred in granting the defendant's motion to strike her hostile work environment and racial discrimination claims. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         In Heyward v. Judicial Department, 159 Conn.App. 794, 797-98, 124 A.3d 920 (2015), this court set forth the following undisputed facts and procedural history: ‘‘[The plaintiff], who is African-American, was employed as an administrative clerk in the clerk's office for the Superior Court in Meriden. At all relevant times, she was the only nonwhite employee working in the Meriden clerk's office.

         ‘‘On July 18, 2012, [the plaintiff] filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), alleging that she had been subjected to harassment, discrimination and denied time off for medical appointments due to her race and gender, and as retaliation for engaging in protected activities. In her CHRO complaint, [the plaintiff] named the [defendant] as the sole respondent. She alleged that her supervisor, [Robert A.] Axelrod, had subjected her to a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex and race . . . .

         ‘‘On March 7, 2013, [the plaintiff] received a release of jurisdiction letter from the CHRO, authorizing her to bring an action in the Superior Court for the claims alleged in her CHRO complaint. On August 8, 2013, [the plaintiff and her husband][2] filed a six count amended complaint [in the Superior Court] against the [defendant and Axelrod]. The first five counts were brought by [the plaintiff] against [the defendant and Axelrod], and alleged, respectively, creation of a hostile work environment, race based discrimination, disability discrimination, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and defamation. . . .

         ‘‘The [defendant] moved to dismiss the amended complaint on August 14, 2013, arguing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case for a number of reasons. With respect to the [defendant], the court granted the motion to dismiss . . . [as to] counts [three] four, five, and six . . . .'' (Footnotes added and omitted.)

         On February 21, 2014, the plaintiff appealed from the court's dismissal of the latter four counts of her amended complaint. On September 15, 2015, this court dismissed the appeal as to the defendant for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the plaintiff had not appealed from a final judgment. See id., 805. While that appeal was pending, the defendant moved to strike the remaining two counts of the plaintiff's amended complaint, alleging hostile work environment and race discrimination. On December 10, 2015, the plaintiff filed her memorandum in opposition to the defendant's motion to strike. On April 12, 2016, the court issued a memorandum of decision granting the defendant's motion to strike on the ground that the plaintiff's amended complaint did not allege sufficient facts to support claims of hostile work environment or race discrimination, and, in the alternative, that the plaintiff's memorandum in opposition was inadequately briefed.[3] This appeal followed.[4] Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         The plaintiff claims that the court improperly struck her hostile work environment and race discrimination claims and contends that she is ‘‘entitled to the broadest construction of the allegations of the amended complaint without [formulaic words] being required.'' We disagree and conclude that the plaintiff has pleaded insufficient facts to state a claim of hostile work environment or race discrimination.

         We first set forth the appropriate standard of review in an appeal from the granting of a motion to strike. ‘‘Because a motion to strike challenges the legal sufficiency of a pleading and, consequently, requires no factual findings by the trial court, our review of the court's ruling . . . is plenary.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Amato v. Hearst Corp., 149 Conn.App. 774, 777, 89 A.3d 977 (2014). ‘‘The role of the trial court [is] to examine the [complaint], construed in favor of the [plaintiff], to determine whether the [pleading party has] stated a legally sufficient cause of action.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Szczapa v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 56 Conn.App. 325, 328, 743 A.2d 622, cert. denied, 252 Conn. 951, 748 A.2d 299 (2000). ‘‘It is fundamental that in determining the sufficiency of a complaint challenged by a defendant's motion to strike, all well-pleaded facts and those facts necessarily implied from the allegations are taken as admitted. . . . For the purpose of ruling upon a motion to strike, the facts alleged in a complaint, though not the legal conclusions it may contain, are deemed to be admitted. . . . A motion to strike is properly granted if the complaint alleges mere conclusions of law that are unsupported by the facts alleged.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Amato v. Hearst Corp., supra, 777-78.

         The following additional facts are necessary for our discussion. Our decision in the plaintiff's prior appeal summarizes the well-pleaded facts set forth in paragraphs nine and ten of the amended complaint as follows: ‘‘Axelrod allegedly told an African-American police officer that he ‘must be working hard' because he was ‘black.' Margaret Malia, [the plaintiff's] coworker, allegedly stated that she ‘did not believe in interracial relationships . . . .' [The plaintiff] was also denied vacation time and medical leave because of ‘operational need, ' even though Axelrod routinely granted other employees requests for time off. Axelrod yelled at [the plaintiff] in front of coworkers and members of the public, and interrupted [the plaintiff's] conversations, both during work and while she was on breaks, to discuss work-related matters. [The plaintiff] felt that Axelrod showed Malia ‘preferential treatment' at her expense. Axelrod placed a ‘defamatory, ...

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