Not every case that comes out from the Connecticut Appellate Court makes headlines.
It is a fairly ordinary discrimination case — albeit a rare one where the employer has been successful on a motion for summary judgment. It is also a textbook example of how slow the legal system can be, with the court decision coming eight years after the employee was fired.
The plaintiff was hired as a social worker in June 2004 and was notified that he needed to successfully complete a “ten month working west period.” His first performance review, about 10 weeks in, was generally favorable. By December, though, he was transferred to a new unit and was required to prepare documents to be filed in court and attend court proceedings.
According to the opinion, the plaintiff proceeded to miss several court hearings and was advised that he had not been completing court documents in a timely manner.
By April 2005, the department decided to terminate his employment as a social worker based on ” your less than satisfactory performance of your duties and responsibilities.”
The employee then sued claiming he was “discriminatorily terminated” on the basis of his race, color and gender. He claimed, among other things, that the department applied a “harsher standard of review” to his performance as compared to “nonblack and female counterparts” and provided additional “assistance and guidance” to his “white counterparts”.
The court rejected the employee’s claims noting that the employee had failed to establish even a prima facie (or basic) case of discrimination. In order to state a basic claim, he had to show that he performed his duties satisfactorily and that the action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.
Here, he could do neither since there was undisputed evidence that the employee “repeatedly failed to perform satisfactorily by missing court appearances, failing to file a motion in court on the designated day and failing to prepare his documents in time for review by his supervisor”. He also could not show that individuals he claimed received preferential treatment were “similarly situated” to him.
From an employer’s perspective, the case is notable because it shows that summary judgment in Connecticut does have some teeth to it. Indeed, in footnote 5, the employee tried to argue that a weaker standard of review should apply. But the court rejected it saying “that is not the standard we employ in our review of summary judgments”.
For employers, the case raises hope that cases can be disposed of before trial. Even so, the employer here had to wait 8 years to get to that point. Not exactly the type of victory that all employers hope for.