Firm Obtains Summary Judgment for Local BOE on CFEPA Claim

July 24, 2013

RRD Partner Michael T. Ryan and Associate Jonathan Zellner recently obtained summary judgment on behalf of a board of education in an action in which the plaintiff claimed that the defendant had discriminated against her on the basis of disability.  The plaintiff had been a tenured music teacher with the defendant board of education.  Over the course of her employment with the defendant, the plaintiff missed significant time from work as a result of a variety of psychological and physical disabilities.  Further, toward the end of her employment, the plaintiff exhibited bizarre and troubling behavior which raised concerns about student safety and her ability to instruct her students in an organized and constructive manner.  Independent medical evaluations of the plaintiff revealed that her conditions were severe enough to interfere with the essential functions of the plaintiff’s job and that they were unlikely to improve.  This was despite the fact that the defendant had provided the plaintiff with a full-time paraprofessional to assist her some fifteen years earlier.  The defendant terminated the plaintiff’s employment pursuant to the Connecticut Teacher Tenure Act on the recommendation of an independent hearing officer, who concluded that evidence of the teacher’s performance and the severity of her medical conditions supported termination on the basis of disability and other due and sufficient cause.

The plaintiff appealed the defendant’s termination decision to the Superior Court of Connecticut.  While the appeal was pending, the plaintiff brought a separate action in which she alleged that the defendant had discriminated against her on the basis of her disabilities in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.  The Superior Court affirmed the termination decision, finding that it was supported by substantial evidence of disability and other due and sufficient cause.  The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appellate Court of Connecticut.  In a decision affirming the Superior Court’s decision, the Appellate Court held that the defendant’s termination of the plaintiff pursuant to the Teacher Tenure Act comported with the policy mandates of the Fair Employment Practices Act, which, among other things, prohibits discrimination on the basis of a history of mental or physical disability.

Attorneys Ryan and Zellner moved for summary judgment on behalf of the defendant on the basis that the plaintiff’s disability discrimination action was barred by the doctrine of res judicata.  This doctrine provides that a valid final judgment on the merits serves as an absolute bar to a subsequent cause of action between the same parties upon the same claim.  Under this doctrine, a cause of action includes claims which were actually litigated in the preceding action as well as claims which could have been raised.