The running joke by employment lawyers is that even though Connecticut is an at-will employment state, employees can sue their employers at any time for any reason or no reason at all. (I’ll wait while you
The joke touches on the perception by employers that employees can seemingly file the most frivolous of complaints. And the perception that courts will not take any action to dismiss those claims.
A new case out of the federal district court in Connecticut shows how that perception can be wrong, however.
In Friedman v. USPS, a letter carrier (who suffered from lateral epicondylitis — tennis elbow) claimed that employer violated the ADA when in changed his status even though it did not affect his income, his seniority, his ability to secure further employment with USPS or cause him any actual or imminent economic injury.
When the employer filed for summary judgment, it did not bother to go through the normal burden-shifting analysis. Rather, it said that the employee lacked “standing” (or the right) to proceed with his claims at all.
First, the employee didn’t take any depositions, conduct any written discovery or submit any evidence in support of his claims. Because of this, the court said that he “unquestionably fails to satisfy his burden of proof with respect to standing at this stage of litigation.”
But beyond that the court said that it has “serious doubt” whether the employee could establish any injury. While the employee may have felt some “embarrassment” with his change his status or loss of status, that is not enough to bring a claim to federal court. If the employee could establish some “emotional trauma suffered as a result of an allegedly hostile work environment” or something similar, the court might come out to a different outcome. But here, the court said it was easy: No injury means no standing to proceed.
The case is a useful one for employers who have claims filed by employees representing themselves in court and demonstrates that there is a floor to which all claims must pass. While I don’t anticipate this type of defense to come up often, it is a more powerful argument than merely arguing that the employer didn’t discriminate against the employee.