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Hernandez v. Department of Children and Families

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 26, 2018




         Plaintiff Margarita Hernandez was the only Hispanic clinical psychologist at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (“CJTS”), a facility run by the defendant, Connecticut Department of Children and Families (“DCF”). Beginning in January 2014, plaintiff began having significant workplace conflict with her new supervisor, Gail DeMarco. These conflicts eventually resulted in plaintiff's firing in January 2016, after nine months spent on administrative leave. The ostensible basis for plaintiff's suspension and termination was her violation of department policy concerning the use of personal printers. But plaintiff alleges that she was in fact the victim of racial discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment. Because I find that genuine fact issues remain for a jury to decide whether defendant's proffered reason for firing plaintiff was a pretext for discrimination and retaliation, I will deny the motion.


         The following facts are set forth in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. Plaintiff began her employment with the Department as a clinical psychologist in 2000. Doc. #34-4 at 4. Her allegations chiefly concern the time after January 2014, when Gail DeMarco became her supervisor. Doc. #43-3 at 3 (¶ 6). Her allegations fall into six main categories.

         The Bilingual Stipend

         When DeMarco became plaintiff's supervisor, she assigned her an excessive case load, allegedly on the basis of her Hispanic ethnic background. Ibid. Plaintiff had been receiving a $1, 000-per-year stipend to compensate her for providing bilingual services. Id. at 4 (¶ 24). Plaintiff was asked to take on every case that required bilingual services, and her workload was not otherwise reduced to compensate for this. When she complained about her increased caseload, DeMarco responded by noting the stipend plaintiff received. Plaintiff then filed a formal complaint with human resources in August 2014, after which HR determined she was not meeting the requirements of the bilingual stipend and stopped giving her that stipend. Id. at 4 (¶¶ 22-26). Plaintiff argues that the investigation of her complaint was flawed and that the determination concerning her eligibility for the stipend was erroneous. Id. at 4 (¶ 27). Plaintiff later stopped performing bilingual services, id. at 4 (¶ 28), though she still received requests to perform bilingual services during the winter of 2014-15. Id. at 5 (¶ 48).

         Comp Time and Degrading Comments

         In April 2014, DeMarco denied plaintiff the ability to use her compensation time (“comp time”) as provided by the union contract. Id. at 3 (¶ 9). Plaintiff filed a grievance over this and prevailed. Id. at 4 (¶ 11); Doc. #34-4 at 27. At a department meeting the following month, DeMarco “treated [plaintiff] in a disrespectful manner in front of [her] colleagues and called [her] a liar.” Doc. #43-3 at 4 (¶ 12). DeMarco accused plaintiff of holding an “organized meeting” concerning on-call policy. Doc. #34-4 at 28. Plaintiff denied this allegation, and DeMarco said something to the effect of, “you know, you don't have to lie, you could just tell the truth.” Id. at 28-29. Plaintiff subsequently spoke with DeMarco over the phone and told her she found her behavior disrespectful and inappropriate; DeMarco told her she was overreacting and that it (“liar”) was just a word. Id. at 29-30.


         In June 2014, DeMarco failed to submit one of plaintiff's timesheets to the payroll department promptly, resulting in a portion of plaintiff's salary being delayed for 13 days. Doc. #34-4 at 30-31. Standard practice in the department was to submit timesheets on Wednesday, a couple days in advance of the deadline. Plaintiff's on-call day was Thursday. One day plaintiff had to work extra time on Thursday, and she submitted a revised timesheet the following morning. DeMarco allegedly failed to deliver the amended sheet to payroll, and plaintiff did not get paid for the four extra hours she had worked until 13 days later. Her regular salary was paid on time. When plaintiff confronted DeMarco about it, DeMarco said “Why are you making a big deal out of it? You found the error, it's done. Let it go, ” to which plaintiff responded that this was a serious matter and could well happen again. Ibid.


         In July 2014, plaintiff was forced to move from her unit at CJTS, 4-B, to unit 6-C. Plaintiff alleges a number of irregularities as to this transfer, including failure to follow protocol as to seniority and failure to observe previous policy concerning temporary replacements for people on medical leave. Id. at 32-35. Plaintiff also describes a number of other attempts by DeMarco to reassign her from her assigned unit. See id. at 35-44. ...

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