United States District Court, D. Connecticut
N. Chatigny United States District Judge.
Kelly Famiglietti brought this action against her former
employer, Hartford Hospital, under Conn. Gen. Stat. §
31-290a claiming her employment was terminated because she
exercised her right to receive workers' compensation
benefits following a work-related injury. Defendant moved for
summary judgment arguing that a jury would have to find that
plaintiff's employment was lawfully terminated because
she had exhausted all leave time available to her under the
Hospital's written employment policy governing leaves of
absence. The motion was granted for substantially the reasons
stated by the defendant. This memorandum provides a written
statement of the reasons for the Court's ruling.
evidence in the record shows the following. In February 2011,
Hartford Hospital Nurse Manager Angie Fleig hired the
plaintiff to work at the Hospital as a registered nurse.
Plaintiff took leave from the job after sustaining a work-
related back injury on June 30, 2011, and began collecting
workers' compensation benefits. Plaintiff's doctor
cleared her to perform light-duty work as of August 4, 2011.
Plaintiff returned to work for one shift on August 10. On
that date, she reinjured her back after she was required to
perform job-related tasks not permitted by her doctor.
September 14, while plaintiff still was on leave due to her
injury, Fleig convened a meeting to discuss plaintiff's
employment status. William Bell, a human resources
consultant, told Fleig that plaintiff had exhausted the leave
available to her under the Hospital's leave of absence
policy and her employment could therefore be terminated. The
leave of absence policy states that “employment is
terminated after all leave is expired.” The policy does
not distinguish between employees with work-related injuries
and those with non-work-related injuries or illnesses.
September 22, plaintiff received a letter from Fleig
notifying her that her employment was terminated effective
immediately. The relevant portion of the termination letter
reads: “Since you have not been able to return to your
job within the allotted period of time, we will no longer be
able to keep your current position open.” It is
undisputed that plaintiff's leave expired weeks before
her employment was terminated. Plaintiff was unaware that she
did not have additional leave time, however, and thought the
defendant's termination of her employment was improper.
judgment - sometimes referred to as judgment without trial -
may be granted when there is no genuine issue of material
fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986). To avoid summary judgment in this case, the plaintiff
must point to evidence that would permit a jury to return a
verdict in her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). If the evidence in the
record is legally insufficient to support a verdict in favor
of the plaintiff, there is no need for a trial because even
if the jury were to return a verdict in her favor, the
verdict would have to be overturned due to the lack of
sufficient evidentiary support. In deciding whether the
evidence is legally sufficient or insufficient to support the
plaintiff's claim, the evidence must be viewed in the
light most favorable to her. Id. at 255.
claim is based on Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-290a, which
prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee
who exercises rights under the workers' compensation
statute. Claims based on this statute are analyzed using the
McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework applicable to
employment discrimination claims generally. Mele v. City
of Hartford, 855 A.2d 196, 206 (Conn. 2004)
(citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S.
792 (1973)). To establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff
must show that the defendant terminated her employment
because she was exercising a right protected by the
workers' compensation act. Id. at
If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden
shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for the termination. Id.
at 206. Then, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show
that the purported reason given by the defendant is a
pretext, in other words, an excuse for what was actually
prohibited discrimination. Id. To sustain her
ultimate burden, the plaintiff must have evidence permitting
a jury to find that (1) discrimination more likely than not
motivated the termination or (2) the reasons given for the
termination are “unworthy of credence.”
Id. (quoting Diaz v. Hous. Auth. of the
City of Stamford, 785 A.2d 192, 196 (Conn. 2001)). The
primary focus is “always whether an employer treats an
employee less favorably than other employees for an
impermissible reason.” Montana v. First Fed. Sav.
& Loan Ass'n of Rochester, 869 F.2d 100, 104 (2d
judgment is appropriate in this case because the evidence in
the record, viewed most favorably to the plaintiff, is
insufficient to support a reasonable finding that the
Hospital's proffered reason for the termination of her
employment is a pretext for discrimination. See Chiaia v.
Pepperidge Farm, Inc., 588 A.2d 652, 654 (Conn. App.
Ct.) (application of neutral leave policy to employee
receiving workers' compensation benefits is not a per se
violation of section 31-290a; rather, “plaintiff must
present some evidence from which a trier of fact could infer
that the employer discharged or discriminated against the
employee because he or she had exercised his or her rights
under the Workers' Compensation Act”), cert.
denied, 593 A.2d 133 (Conn. 1991). The Hospital's
proffered reason for the termination - that the plaintiff was
unable to return to work following the leave of absence
permitted by the Hospital's policy - is well-supported by
the policy itself, Bell's advice to Frieg concerning the
policy as it applied to the plaintiff, and Freig's
subsequent letter to the plaintiff invoking the policy as the
reason for the termination. Plaintiff offers no evidence,
direct or circumstantial, permitting a jury to find that the
termination was motivated by discrimination based on
plaintiff's receipt of workers' compensation
contends that the temporal proximity between her workers'
compensation claim and the termination of her employment is
sufficient to establish a causal connection between the two.
See El Sayed v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 627 F.3d 931,
933 (2d Cir. 2010) (“The temporal proximity of events
may give rise to an inference of retaliation for the purposes
of establishing a prima facie case.”). But the timing
of these events does not support a reasonable inference of
discrimination. Plaintiff filed for workers' compensation
benefits soon after she was injured on June 30. Her
employment was not terminated until September 22 -- nearly
three months later. See Housel v. Rochester Inst. of
Tech., 6 F.Supp.3d 294, 308 (W.D.N.Y. 2014)
(“[C]laims of retaliation are routinely dismissed when
as few as three months elapse between the protected activity
and the alleged act of retaliation.”). Moreover, Fleig
was informed by Bell that plaintiff's employment was
subject to termination under the leave policy just eight days
before Fleig notified the plaintiff of the termination.
close temporal proximity between Fleig's meeting with
Bell and the delivery of the termination letter undercuts an
inference of a causal connection between plaintiff's
exercise of her right to receive workers' compensation
benefits and the decision to terminate her employment.
See Benjamin v. Terrero, No. 13-cv-8699 (VB), 2017
WL 187479, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2017) (“The time
that elapsed after plaintiff's alleged complaint in May
and the intervening June incidents demonstrating plaintiff
and [supervisor]'s difficult working relationship,
undermines the strength of any inference due to temporal
proximity that [supervisor] terminated plaintiff for
retaliatory reasons.”); see also El Sayed, 627 F.3d at
933 (“[W]ithout more, . . . temporal proximity is
insufficient to satisfy [plaintiff's] burden to bring
forward some evidence of pretext.”).
also points to evidence showing that Fleig was frustrated
with the situation. As far as the record shows, however,
Fleig said nothing about plaintiff applying for or receiving
workers' compensation benefits. Rather, the evidence
shows that Fleig was unhappy about the plaintiff's
unavailability to perform the nursing duties for which she
had been hired. Fleig's frustration in this regard,
viewed most favorably to the plaintiff, does not permit a
reasonable inference that the termination of plaintiff's
employment in accordance with the written leave policy was
motivated by discrimination prohibited by the workers'
plaintiff argues that the defendant's failure to promptly
enforce the leave policy gives rise to an inference of
discrimination. Fleig's letter to the plaintiff informing
her of the termination was transmitted soon after Fleig met
with Bell and learned that plaintiff's employment was
subject to termination under the policy. The evidence does
not support a finding that she was aware of this before she
met with Bell. More fundamentally, the issue in this case is
whether the plaintiff was treated less favorably than other
employees who did not make a claim for workers'
compensation benefits. The evidence does not support such a