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Appellate Court: Tenured Teachers May be Terminated for “Disability” Without Violating CFEPA

Posted in Highlight, Litigation

The Connecticut Appellate Court yesterday released two notable employment law decisions. They won’t become “official” until April 30, 2013, so you have some time to digest them.  I’ll cover one today and leave the other for a future post (though if you’re really curious you can read it here.)

To me, the more interesting of the two is Langello v. West Haven Board of Education, which decided an issue that you would think had long since been decided. But this is Connecticut; appellate court guidance is few and far between.

The issue: How do both the Teacher Tenure Act and Connecticut’s Fair Employment Practices Act (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of, among other reasons, disability) co-exist with each other and what is the interplay between the two?

Why is this important? Because the Teacher Tenure Act provides that a tenured teacher may be discharged for a “disability” or “other due and sufficient cause”.  Thus, put another way, can a school district fire a teacher because she has a disability without violating the state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability?

To this, the court answers “yes” so long as the proper questions have been answered.

In keeping with the public policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and our Supreme Court’s analysis of the legislative intent behind § 46a-60 (a) (1), we conclude that any teacher who is terminated pursuant to the Tenure Teacher Act enjoys the protections of the Fair Employment Practices Act.

A contrary conclusion—that a tenured teacher who is discharged from her employment because of her disability pursuant to § 10-151 (d) (4) is outside of the protections of § 46a-60 would thwart the purpose of the Fair Employment Practices Act.

To ensure compliance with the purpose of the Fair Employment Practices Act, a teacher who is discharged for any of the reasons enumerated in § 10-151 (d) must be afforded the protections of § 46a-60. A board of education, if it seeks to terminate a teacher’s employment pursuant to the Teacher Tenure Act for reason of a disability, must follow the mandates of the Fair Employment Practices Act and show that the teacher was unable to perform the essential functions of her profession with or without reasonable accommodation.

As to the application to the case at hand, the court fairly easily disposes of the teacher’s claim that the employer failed to show that she could not perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

What’s the takeaway here?

For school districts, this case is a crucial one. Any attempt to invoke the provisions of the Teacher Tenure Act by terminating a teacher for a disability, should be reviewed carefully to determine if the employee can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Without that analysis, school boards are leaving themselves open to a challenge of the type raised in this case.