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Johnson v. Connecticut Department of Administration Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 5, 2018




         Plaintiff Curtis Johnson is an employee of the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology (the “Department”).[1] He has filed this action for race discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment against the Department as well as his two supervisors, James Wells and David Ruiz. Defendants have now moved to dismiss the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant in part and deny in part the motions to dismiss.


         The following alleged facts are accepted as true solely for purposes of this motion to dismiss that challenges the adequacy of the pleadings in the complaint. Plaintiff began working for the Department's Bureau of Enterprise Systems and Technology in July 2007 with the Operations/Infrastructure Support Team. Plaintiff has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. He served as the backup to his supervisor, defendant James Wells, and he was one of two black employees supervised by Wells. Additionally, plaintiff suffered from sleep apnea and had a medical certificate entitling him to use sick time to come to work late.

         In order for plaintiff to serve in his role as backup, Wells was supposed to provide certain training to plaintiff. But Wells never provided this training, rendering plaintiff not fully capable of fulfilling his role. For six years, Wells frustrated plaintiff's ability to fulfill his role by withholding “mission critical information and processes.” Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 11). Plaintiff also perceived Wells to be disrespectful to him in the workplace. Wells frequently told plaintiff to stop looking at his phone or not to take too long in the bathroom, while not treating other employees in this fashion.

         On August 23, 2012, Wells called plaintiff's personal cell phone while he was on vacation. Wells began to “berate” plaintiff about the completion of documentation related to work he completed with Arnold Correa. Id. at 3 (¶¶ 16-17). Plaintiff texted defendant David Ruiz, the Data Center Manager, to inform him that Wells was harassing him while on vacation. When he returned from his vacation, plaintiff discussed the incident with Ruiz. After Wells was confronted, he demanded that plaintiff cease wearing headphones in his work center while others continued to use them.

         In October 2012, plaintiff applied for a position in the Enterprise Planning and Architecture Division, a position for which he was qualified. Although plaintiff had three of the four preferred skills for the position, plaintiff was told he would not be interviewed because he possessed none of the preferred skills. Many of the employees that were selected did not possess more of the preferred skills required for the job than plaintiff possessed. According to plaintiff's administrative complaint that he filed before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity (CHRO), the position was filled by a black male with a doctorate degree in IT security. Doc. #15-2 at 5.[2]

         One day in January 2013, plaintiff called into the command center at 7:00 a.m. to advise that he would be using three hours of paid leave that day. Despite the fact that plaintiff had taken leave at the last minute before, Wells approached plaintiff to demand that he inform Wells one day ahead of time when taking paid time off. Wells did not require this of any other employee in the data center.

         On September 4, 2013, plaintiff briefly detoured into the office library to greet some co-workers. While there, he spotted a newspaper that contained an article about someone he knew personally. Wells then passed by and scolded plaintiff in front of his co-workers for looking at the newspaper.

         Following this incident, plaintiff notified a union steward about his problems with Wells and then filed a formal complaint against Wells with the human resources department (“HR”). After plaintiff started lodging his complaints with the union and HR, Wells ceased speaking to plaintiff altogether, restricted communication to only e-mail, and began to report daily tasks to Arnold Correa, an employee who worked under plaintiff. One week after filing his complaint with HR, plaintiff learned that HR was working with Affirmative Action on the matter.

         On September 18, 2013, plaintiff met with Lorraine Vittner from HR and Eric Lindquist. He described his complaints about Wells and explained that his role as backup to Wells was mandated by the Data Center Manager. Plaintiff elaborated that he received inadequate training to fulfill his role as compared to when he held a similar position elsewhere. When asked by Lindquist, plaintiff said he believed that Wells was treating him in this manner because, among other reasons, he is black. Plaintiff described Wells's conduct toward him as “prejudicial treatment and harassment” and used the term “berate-berating, ” giving the example of the phone call on vacation to illustrate its meaning. Doc. #1 at 7 (¶¶ 37-38). Plaintiff informed Lindquist that he would rather report to Ruiz and would like the “knowledge transfer, ” which is a set of training meetings to help plaintiff fulfill his job role. Id. at 7-8 (¶¶ 38, 41).

         Plaintiff met again with Vittner on September 30, 2013. At that meeting, Vittner informed him that plaintiff would continue to report to Wells, but Ruiz would coordinate meetings between plaintiff and Wells while Vittner would meet with plaintiff biweekly to monitor the work relationship. Additionally, Vittner told plaintiff that Wells would take supervisor training classes. Vittner also informed plaintiff that Wells had complained to her about his inability to find plaintiff at certain times.

         Starting in October 2013, seven “knowledge transfer” meetings were held with plaintiff, Ruiz, and Wells-one in October, three in November, two in December, and one in March 2014. For his part, Wells continued to meet with Vittner to satisfy monitoring requirements imposed by HR, but he did not attend any formal supervisor training.

         At one of the “knowledge transfer” meetings in December 2013, Ruiz and Wells required plaintiff to notify them whenever he planned to come in late using sick time afforded him by his medical certificate. In April 2014, Wells modified this directive to require plaintiff to e-mail him whenever he arrived late to work irrespective of the type of leave to be used. No other employee supervised by Wells was required to give such notice.

         In January 2014, at Ruiz's request, Wells invited plaintiff to attend systems assurance meetings on certain scheduled days. Plaintiff regularly attended these meetings for three months until one day he arrived for the meeting while an earlier meeting that had run late was still proceeding. Wells informed plaintiff that he was in the wrong meeting, but plaintiff stayed in the meeting. Thereafter, plaintiff was no longer told when the systems assurance meetings were held.

         On February 13, 2014, plaintiff left work at 8:30 a.m. because the Governor of Connecticut closed the state and ordered non-essential personnel to remain at home. On plaintiff's timesheet, Ruiz coded the absence as “unauthorized leave” resulting in a garnishment of 6.5 hours of pay. Because of this action, plaintiff's union filed a grievance on his behalf. In April 2014, as part of the negotiations between the union and HR to resolve the matter, HR proposed, among other requirements, that plaintiff withdraw all harassment complaints filed with HR, the union, the CHRO, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in exchange for being “made whole” and a restoration of the garnished wages. Id. at 10 (¶ 51).

         Wells continued to frustrate plaintiff's ability to fulfill his duties. For example, on April 25, 2014, Ruiz asked plaintiff to assist a co-worker on a project, but plaintiff was completely unfamiliar with the project because Wells had not informed him about it. On April 29, plaintiff informed Vittner that Wells was marginalizing plaintiff, giving all relevant information to Correa and not speaking to plaintiff at all. Ibid. (¶ 55).

         Plaintiff filed his complaint with the CHRO on June 4, 2014. Doc. #15-2 at 1. On October 1, 2014, plaintiff was given a performance review that indicated he had “regressed” in “quantity of work.” Doc. #1 at 14 (¶¶ 74-75). Plaintiff inquired with Ruiz why he had received a negative evaluation. Ruiz described three separate incidents of deficient performance, all three of which plaintiff disputed as legitimate grounds for the negative performance review.

         Absences and tardiness continued to be a source of discord between plaintiff and Wells. On two occasions, once in February 2014 and once in January 2015, plaintiff was late on mornings it had snowed. On the earlier occasion, Wells tried to force plaintiff to use personal leave to cover the time missed, but backed off when a co-worker corroborated plaintiff's explanation that the highway was shutdown. On the latter occasion, Wells again asked plaintiff to use his personal time but did not make the same request of a white co-worker who had also arrived late.

         The marginalization and discord continued in February 2015. For example, on February 6 and 11, Wells went on a job run to Groton for the day without telling plaintiff or instructing him as to what should be done that day. On February 17, plaintiff informed a union representative that he went to the ...

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