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Barone v. Judicial Branch of the State of Connecticut

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 27, 2019

ANNE MARIE BARONE, Plaintiff,
v.
JUDICIAL BRANCH OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT, GLORIA ALBERT, and LINDA COON, Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Anne Marie Barone (“Plaintiff”) has sued the Judicial Branch for the State of Connecticut (“Judicial Branch”) and two Judicial Branch supervisors, Gloria Albert and Linda Coon (collectively “Defendants”), alleging discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment.

         For the following reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND A. Factual Background [1]

         In the year 2000, Ms. Barone started working for the Judicial Branch of the State of Connecticut as a court monitor, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ¶ 6, ECF No. 57-2 (Mar. 1, 2019) (“Defs.' SOMF”); Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 6, ECF No. 60 (Mar. 15, 2019) (“Pl.'s SOMF”), at the Danbury Superior Court. Defs.' SOMF Ex. A, ECF No. 57-4 at 15 (Barone Dep. at 49:6-13) (“Barone Dep.”). Ms. Albert supervised Ms. Barone until 2014. Defs.' SOMF ¶ 10; Pl.'s SOMF ¶ 10.

         In June 2014, Ms. Coon began to supervise Ms. Barone. Defs.' SOMF ¶ 11; Barone Dep. at 45:5-8. Ms. Coon worked with Ms. Barone from June 2014 until October of that same year. Defs.' SOMF ¶ 11-16; Defs.' SOMF Ex. E, ECF No. 57-8 at 5, 12 (Coon Dep. at 16:19-21, 68:5-10) (“Coon Dep.”).

         During her employment with the Judicial Branch, Ms. Barone allegedly “developed a physical disability, ulcerative colitis, and was diagnosed as suffering from a mental and learning disability, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder” (“ADHD”). Pl.'s SOMF ¶ 20; Defs.' SOMF ¶ 20; Third Am. Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 39 (Apr. 3, 2018).

         1. Requests for leave and accommodation, and the first EEOC Complaint

         In June or July of 2012, Ms. Barone sought medical leave from the Judicial Branch. Defs.' SOMF ¶ 21. After examining Ms. Barone on June 28, 2012, a physician indicated that she would be able to return to regular work on July 5, 2012. Barone Dep. Ex. 18, ECF No. 59 (Judicial Branch Medical Certificate (July 5, 2012)) (submitted under seal).

         In late 2013 or early 2014, Ms. Barone sought an accommodation from the Judicial Branch. Defs.' SOMF Ex. C, ECF No. 57-6 at 24 (Albert Dep. at 62:15-25) (“Albert Dep.”). Ms. Barone did not disclose to Ms. Albert what accommodation she had requested or the reason for the request but told Ms. Albert that “she felt if she filed [the accommodation request, the Judicial Branch would “have to give her her own office, ” and that “it would help her do her job better.” Id. at 62:21-25, 64:1-65:15).

         By early 2014, Ms. Albert had been transferred to the Hartford Superior Court. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 2 (Barone Dep. Ex. 1, EEOC Intake Questionnaire (Feb. 25, 2014) (Ms. Barone naming Gloria Albert as her immediate supervisor and noting that she had “just transferred to Hartford”) (“EEOC Intake Questionnaire”); Barone Dep. at 49:17-22.

         On February 25, 2014, Ms. Barone claimed to have been discriminated against because of her disability of ADHD. EEOC Intake Questionnaire. The questionnaire refers to e-mails describing discriminatory actions, but these underlying e-mails have not been included in this record. Id. at 3-4. Ms. Barone claims to have requested her own office on November 15, 2013 and claims to have been “[d]enied an accommodation request” on January 16, 2014, “based on [her] position and not [her] special needs condition.” Id. at 3-4. The questionnaire quotes an allegedly attached e-mail stating that “[t]he position of a Court Recording Monitor does not require this level of privacy.” Id. Ms. Barone testified about having worked in a cubicle with walls but stated that she did not have privacy from noise. Barone Dep. at 111:1-112:15.

         On March 27, 2014, the EEOC informed Ms. Barone that she needed to complete and return an enclosed Charge of Discrimination form in order for it to take further action. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 17 (Barone Dep. Ex. 1, EEOC Letter (Mar. 27, 2014)). The EEOC further informed her that the Charge of Discrimination form also would be sent to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) to investigate “under their statute” as well. Id.

         On May 6, 2014, the EEOC received Ms. Barone's completed Charge of Discrimination form. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 11 (Barone Dep. Ex. 1, EEOC Charge of Discrimination Form (notarized May 2, 2014; EEOC receipt stamp May 6, 2014)). Then, on May 22, 2014, the EEOC confirmed that her charge of employment discrimination had been received and informed her of the procedures going forward. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 14-15 (Barone Dep. Ex. 1, EEOC Letter (May 22, 2014)). On the same day, an EEOC Mediator sent a letter addressed to both Ms. Barone and a Human Resources representative of the Judicial Branch inviting both parties to participate in mediation. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 13 (Barone Dep. Ex. 1, EEOC Invitation to Mediate (May 22, 2014)).

         On June 23, 2014, the EEOC Mediator sent another letter to both Ms. Barone and the Judicial Branch human resources representative stating that Ms. Barone's charge was “no longer eligible for mediation through the EOC's Mediation Program” because the “[r]espondent failed to respond by the due date.” Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 12 (Barone Dep. Ex. 1, EEOC Letter (June 23, 2014)).

         Ms. Barone was on approved medical leave for the time periods of August 18 through September 1, 2014, and September 2 through September 9, 2014. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 52-53 (Barone Dep. Exs. 20-21, Dr. Jessica Chaudhary Letters recommending medical leave for Patient Anne Marie Barone (Aug. 18, 2014 and Aug. 27, 2014)). On September 9, 2014, Ms. Barone submitted another form, signed by Dr. Jessica Chaudhary, indicating that due to “ADHD [and] derivative symptoms, ” Ms. Barone could “work regular h[ou]rs if she has a quiet work environment-can focus in court room during trial, but has difficulty [at] duty station with numerous distractions.” Barone Dep. Ex. 24, ECF No. 59-1 (Judicial Branch Medical Certificate (Sept. 9, 2014)) (submitted under seal).

         On September 23, 2014, the Judicial Branch approved leave for Ms. Barone under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for September 11 through September 25, 2014. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 54-56 (Barone Dep. Ex. 22, Judicial Branch Response to Employee Request for FMLA Leave (Sept. 23, 2014)). When she returned to work on September 26, 2014, Ms. Barone had to be at her assigned duty station. Barone Dep. at 113:11-13.

         Ms. Barone testified that when she requested medical leave time, the Judicial Branch granted her requests. Barone Dep. at 145:8-20.

         On January 29, 2015, the EEOC sent a letter to Ms. Barone dismissing her charge of discrimination. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 6 (Barone Dep. Ex. 1, EEOC Letter (Sept. 23, 2014)). The letter stated, in part, as follows:

[W]e have examined your charge based upon the information and evidence you submitted. You allege you were subjected to employment discrimination because of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 . . . Respondent's position statement has been previously shared with you. You were provided with an opportunity to submit a rebuttal to this position state [sic] but none was received.
Based upon a review of the documents received, the Commission is unable to conclude that the information establishes a violation of Federal law on the part of Respondent. This does not certify that Respondent is in compliance with the statute.

Id.

         2. Workplace Issues

         On July 31, 2014, Ms. Barone received a written reprimand for leaving work on July 3, 2014. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 24 (Barone Dep. Ex. 5, Judicial Branch Written Reprimand (July 31, 2014)).

         On October 17, 2014, Ms. Barone stated “screw you too” to a coworker. Barone Dep. at 91:13-92:10 (testifying that she did say “screw you” to a coworker on the date indicated); Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 28-29 (Barone Dep. Ex. 7, Judicial Branch Disciplinary Letter (Mar. 13, 2015)).

         On November 17, 2014, Ms. Barone told a co-worker that “you can't play the invalid card anymore.” Barone Dep. at 88:9-15.

         The next day, Ms. Barone told her Judicial Branch co-workers that “they can both go fuck themselves.” Barone Dep. at 90:3-8; Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 26-27 (Barone Dep. Ex. 6, Judicial Branch Disciplinary Letter (Mar. 9, 2015)).

         On November 20, 2014, Ms. Barone sprayed an aerosol substance in the office despite an e-mail having been sent to employees asking them not to spray substances in the office due to another employee's sensitivities. Barone Dep. at 90:12-17; Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 26-27 (Barone Dep. Ex. 6, Judicial Branch Disciplinary Letter (Mar. 9, 2015)).

         On March 9, 2015, the Executive Director of Operations for the Judicial Branch suspended Ms. Barone for two days without pay because of the incidents in November of 2014. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 26-27 (Barone Dep. Ex. 6, Judicial Branch Disciplinary Letter (Mar. 9, 2015)). The corresponding letter states, in part:

On November 17, 2014 at the end of the work day, you referred to a co-worker as an “invalid.” On November 18, 2014, upon arriving at work, you began to argue with this same co-worker. When another employee attempted to diffuse this argument, you told everyone in the office to “go f*** themselves.” Also, despite an email to all staff requesting that employees refrain from using perfumes, colognes, or aerosol sprays due to an employee's sensitivity to them, on November 20, 2014 you sprayed a deodorant type spray in the office.
At a predisciplinary meeting you stated that you were frustrated with your co-worker because she used her health issue to “manipulate” getting out of a work assignment. You stated that you do not always express your frustration in the proper way. Regarding the directive not to use perfumes, colognes, or aerosol sprays, you stated that you were out of the office on FMLA and did not receive this email.
Ms. Barone, despite being disciplined [previously] you continue to display a pattern of unacceptable behavior. Your conduct at work continues to be disruptive and unprofessional and creates a hostile work environment. Your actions are in violation of Judicial Branch Policies 101 - Judicial Branch Mission and 614 - Non-Discrimination in the Workplace. . . .
You are again reminded that you are expected to act in a courteous, respectful manner at all times while at work. Any future violations of a similar nature will result in more serious discipline up to and including termination.

Id.

         On March 13, 2015, the Executive Director of Operations for the Judicial Branch suspended Ms. Barone again for one day without pay based on the incident in October of 2014. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 28-29 (Barone Dep. Ex. 7, Judicial Branch Disciplinary Letter (Mar. 13, 2015)). The letter states, in part:

An investigation was conducted by Human Resource Management and it was substantiated that you again engaged in inappropriate conduct at work. Specifically, on October 17, 2014 while addressing co-workers you said, “screw you too” in an intimidating manner.
At a predisciplinary meeting you stated that you blurt things out and cannot guarantee that you will not do it again. You stated that you only want to do your job, “tried to avoid all of this” and apologized for being this way.
Ms. Barone, Judicial Branch Policy 101 - Judicial Branch Mission, states in part that, “Each Judicial Branch employee should be provided a fair and equitable working environment characterized by amicable understanding, cooperation and harmony.” Your actions created a hostile work environment and caused your co-workers to feel uncomfortable and intimidated. This behavior will not be tolerated. . . .
Your actions are in violation of Judicial Branch Policy 101 - Judicial Branch Mission. . . .
. . . Be advised that any future violations of policy will be subject to further disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Id.

         On July 21, 2015, Jon Lucas, the Court Planner for the Judicial Branch, notified Ms. Barone of a pre-disciplinary meeting to be held on July 23, 2015, “to determine if just cause exists to impose discipline upon you for violating Judicial Branch policies 501-Absences, 502- Reporting Attendance, and 518-Unauthorized Leave” as a “result of an unauthorized absence on June 18, 2015.” Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 30 (Barone Dep. Ex. 8, Judicial Branch Letter (July 21, 2015)); Barone Dep. at 92:16-93:9.

         On August 3, 2015, the Executive Director of Operations for the Judicial Branch sent Ms. Barone another disciplinary letter suspending her for one day without pay based on her absence from work on June 18, 2015. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 31 (Barone Dep. Ex. 9, Judicial Branch Disciplinary Letter (Aug. 3, 2015)); Barone Dep. at 93:11-94:9. The letter states, in part, as follows:

On July 31, 2014 you received a Written Reprimand for an unauthorized absence which was the result of failing to follow procedure for requesting time off. On October 24, 2014 you signed a stipulated agreement which stated, “The grievant's next incident of any LU unauthorized time will result in a one (1) day suspension.” One June 18, 2015 you did not report to work at your scheduled start time . . .
At a pre-disciplinary meeting you stated that you were late because you had an emergency with your dog and “texted the girls” to inform them of your situation. Despite texting co-workers, you failed to follow the proper call out procedure and did not inform your designated supervisors of your situation.
Ms. Barone, this absence is in violation of Judicial Branch policies 501 - Absences, and 502 - reporting Attendance. . . . Any future unauthorized leave or other violations of policy will be subject to further disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Def.'s SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 31 (Barone Dep. Ex. 9, Judicial Branch Disciplinary Letter (Aug. 3, 2015)) (emphasis in the original).

         On October 7, 2015, Mr. Lucas notified Ms. Barone of an investigatory meeting to be held on October 14, 2015, “regarding allegations of theft of time and falsification of Judicial Branch attendance records.” Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 36 (Barone Dep. Ex. 11, Judicial Branch Letter (Oct. 7, 2015)); Barone Dep. at 103:19-104:24. The corresponding letter informed “[Ms. Barone] of [her] right to union representation.” Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 36 (Barone Dep. Ex. 11, Judicial Branch Letter (Oct. 7, 2015)).

         Ms. Barone sought medical leave again for October 12 through October 23, 2015. Defs.' SOMF Ex. B, ECF No. 57-5 at 57 (Barone Dep. Exs. 23, Dr. Jessica Chaudhary Letter recommending ...


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