Just when you think you’ve seen it all, another case comes around to prove that theory incorrect.
The latest example is Ayantola v. Board of Trustees of Technical Colleges (download here), a Connecticut Appellate Court decision officially released today. In the case, an employee who claimed he was not promoted in retaliation for earlier discrimination complaints that he made, argued to the Appellate Court that it now lacked jurisdiction to hear his claims.
in a sense, he was asking the court to throw out the very claims that he brought in the first place.
Is your head spinning yet? If not, a brief discussion of the background is first in order.
According to the court’s decision, Job Ayantola, an assistant professor at Northwestern Connecticut Community College (and a self-described deaf, "black male") claimed that he did not get a promotion in June 2004 to the position of associate professor in retaliation for prior claims of discrimination that he made.
Those prior claims of discrimination had been resolved before the employee even applied for a promotion.
The employer contended that it denied him a promotion in June 2004 because of student complaints about him — complaints that were compiled in an investigative report. The college encouraged him to focus on improvement in specific areas and, a year later, the college did, in fact, promote him.
In the meantime, he brought a complaint of retaliation against the college for the damages resulting from the college’s failure to promote him (for one year). Following a bench trial, the Superior Court issued a decision rendering judgment in favor of the college finding that the failure to promote him was not due to discrimination or retaliation.
Perhaps in an effort to avoid the ramifications that a final judgment against him could entail, the employee claimed on appeal that the court actually lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claims he brought. He claimed that the state had preserved its sovereign immunity over the claims and that his claims could thus be brought to the state’s claims commissioner.
However, the Appellate Court easily rejected this argument finding that it was foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Lyon v. Jones. In that decision, the Court held that state employee do not need to file a claim with the claims commissioner before suing the state for employment discrimination.
Because here, the employee did, in fact, meet all the jurisdictional prerequisites to filing a claim, the Court found that it had jurisdiction to hear the employee’s retaliation claim. In doing so, it felt free to address the underlying claim of retaliation and affirmed the lower court’s decision.
The case is another illustration of how employment discrimination cases can take all sorts of twists and turns that cannot be expected at the start. Employers who defend such claims would be wise to expect the unexpected.
If you are looking for other examples of unexpected litigation arguments and results in employment law cases, the PointofLaw.com forum has a number of posts dedicated to the subject.