A few years ago, there was lots of debate among attorneys about whether summary judgment was still a disfavored remedy in employment discrimination cases in federal court.  (For those readers unclear what "summary judgment" is, the Wikipedia entry is a pretty good start and George’s Employment Blawg has a nice post about how to best prepare a motion for summary judgment.) 

If the latest in a series of recent decisions by Judge Vanessa Bryant is any indication (see prior posts here, here and here), summary judgment is still alive and well. 

In a recent case, Judge Bryant was faced with a multi-count complaint alleging claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60 et seq., and Connecticut common law.  The court granted Quest’s request for summary judgment on each and every count. 

The decision itself is fairly routine in its analysis of the issues. Among the notable points:

  • Employees cannot rely on generalized statements of progressive discipline in an employee handbook to create a "contract" claim, particularly if the employer has set forth adequate disclaimers.
  • An employee cannot prevail on an FMLA claim, where the employer can show that it had already made a decision to remove the employee from his/her position prior to the exercise of FMLA rights.  This is important for employers to understand; the employee need not be notified of the decision in order to invoke this protection, but the decision must have already been made in one fashion or another.

So, does this decision signal a trend of granting summary judgment in Connecticut?  No, at least not generally. Certainly, Judge Bryant has shown that she is not afraid to use this procedural device to dispose of cases.  But each federal district court judge in Connecticut has their own style of handling cases.  Indeed, in a prior post, I noted that two federal court judges even outlined their summary judgment philosophies in their chambers practices.

For example, Judge Thompson believes that "dispositive motions are overused. In discrimination cases, he rarely grants motions for summary judgment that dispose of the entire case." …  Judge Droney, however, states that, "in employment cases, for example, many summary judgment motions and motions to dismiss are being filed. He believes that most of these motions have merit and need to be considered by the court."

Thus, when employees and employers are in federal court, the best way to evaluate a case may not be to merely look at the merits of the case, but to also understand the judge’s philosophy and history as well.  An employer who may have a shot at summary judgment (thereby avoiding the cost of a trial) may value a case entirely differently than a party who knows that the case is going to trial regardless of what the parties uncover during discovery.