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Barrett-Browning v. Connecticut Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 29, 2019

MILLICENT BARRETT-BROWNING, Plaintiff,
v.
CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff works as a corrections officer and alleges that she has been the subject of discrimination by the defendants because of a disabling medical condition. I will grant in part and deny in part defendants' motions to dismiss.

         Background

          The following facts are set forth as alleged in the complaint.[1] Plaintiff Millicent Barrett-Browning has worked for the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) since 2004 and works as a corrections officer at the Hartford Correctional Center. Doc. #1 at 3 (¶ 7). She suffers from bladder dysfunction, which amounts to a disability for which she can continue to work provided that she has a reasonable accommodation to allow her to use a restroom frequently. Ibid. (¶ 8).

         From 2014 onward, Barrett-Browning was given unfavorable employment evaluations and denied promotion to the position of lieutenant. Id. at 5 (¶ 15). The complaint does not say anything more about what happened in 2014. On some unspecified date, when Barrett-Browning appealed from an overall unsatisfactory rating, the DOC “scoffed” at her and stated that she could not be promoted based on her disability. Ibid.

         According to the complaint, “[s]ince on or about May 12, 2015, and prior, the named defendants have harassed, intimidated, failed to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's physical disability and retaliated against the plaintiff to the point of exhaustion, requiring the plaintiff to go out on medical leave in 2015.” Id. at 4 (¶ 10). In the “summer of 2015, ” Barrett-Browning “took a brief leave under the Family Medical Act.” Ibid. (¶ 11). When she returned in the “fall of 2015, ” she made “another request for accommodation of her disabilities, assignment to a post with a bathroom in close proximity to her assigned work station, and sufficient and reasonable time to take bathroom breaks as medically necessary to empty her bladder.” Ibid. (¶ 10).

         Defendants denied her request. Ibid. “On or about September 2015 and prior, ” Barrett-Browning sought reasonable accommodations for her disability from the DOC but the DOC and her supervisor (defendant John Newton) “denied her request on an ongoing basis.” Id. at 4 (¶ 9). Newton “regarded the plaintiff's leaves as pre-textual, and harbored a suspicion that the plaintiff was not disabled at all, but was a malingerer.” Ibid. (¶ 12).

         “When the plaintiff returned from medical leave on or about September 22, 2015, she was again denied a work assignment near a bathroom until on or about July 31, 2016.” Id. at 5 (¶ 13). “[F]rom approximately 2015 onward, ” Barrett-Browning was “made to feel unwelcome and unwanted at her place of employment, where she was frequently ridiculed by colleagues.” Id. at 6 (¶ 16); see also Id. at 4-5 (¶ 12) (alleging that “[d]efendants developed animosity and malice toward the plaintiff, and engaged in an intentional campaign to deny her promotion to the position of lieutenant, [and/or] otherwise harass[ed], intimidate[ed], [and] failed to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's physical disability and/or retaliate[ed] against complainant hoping the plaintiff would resign from state employment”). “This pattern of harassment, ridicule and intimidation continues” to the present day. Id. at 5 (¶ 17).

         On October 19, 2018, Barrett-Browning filed a complaint initiating this court action. The complaint names three defendants: the Connecticut Department of Correction, Allison Black, and John Newton. Black is alleged to be the warden of the Hartford Correctional Center, and Newton is alleged to be Barrett-Browning's supervisor; both Black and Newton are sued in their individual capacity only. Id. at 2-3 (¶¶ 1, 5-6).

         Barrett-Browning alleges claims for disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, as well as constitutional claims for First Amendment retaliation and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 2 (¶ 1). The complaint seeks money damages but makes no claim for injunctive relief. Id. at 6 (¶ 19). Defendants have moved to dismiss. Docs. #16, #34.

         Discussion

         The standard that governs motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) is well established. A complaint may not survive unless it alleges facts that, taken as true, give rise to plausible grounds to sustain the Court's subject matter jurisdiction and to sustain plaintiffs' claims for relief. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Kim v. Kimm, 884 F.3d 98, 103 (2d Cir. 2018); Lapaglia v. Transamerica Cas. Ins. Co., 155 F.Supp.3d 153, 155-56 (D. Conn. 2016). Although this “plausibility” requirement is “not akin to a probability requirement, ” it “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Because the focus must be on what facts a complaint alleges, a court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” or “to accept as true allegations that are wholly conclusory.” Krys v. Pigott, 749 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2014).

         Americans with Disabilities Act

         The Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., broadly protects against disability-based discrimination. “It forbids discrimination against persons with disabilities in three major areas of public life: employment, which is covered by Title I of the statute; public services, programs, and activities, which are the subject of Title II; and public ...


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