Over the weekend, I asked my colleague, Chris Engler, to think of any employment law lessons that could be divined from the victories of the UConn Men’s Basketball team.  He reminds us in the post below that preparation still matters.  Of course, this isn’t the first time this blog has written about the UConn Huskies (see 2009 and 2011).  Will 2014 bring another championship?

This past weekend, the UConn men’s hoops team reminded us that hard work and thorough preparation can prevail in a contest that looks tough to win on paper. A recent federal court decision shows that those same qualities serve Connecticut employers well too.

The alleged facts are told in the court’s decision: Martin Donovan, a longtime Yale University administrator, was terminated back in 2010 after an investigation revealed numerous problems with his management style. Donovan sued for age discrimination based on three comments by his supervisors.

The background facts are important. A few months before his termination, when Donovan was 61 years old, his supervisor asked him about rumors that he was planning to retire. When Donovan vehemently denied the rumors, the supervisor expressed relief that Donovan would continue working.

Previously, another supervisor had commented on other employees’ ages in Donovan’s presence. The supervisor first conveyed his satisfaction that an accountant left and was replaced by “someone younger.” Later, the supervisor mentioned that a researcher was too old for his research to be valid.

Despite these comments, the federal court for the District of Connecticut concluded that they weren’t enough to show age discrimination. In doing so, the court provided some insight into how an employer can avoid an age discrimination claim. (Readers, get out your notepads.)

First, the court highlighted the thoroughness of the investigation into Donovan’s managerial problems. The investigators were theoretically impartial, being from another Yale unit, and they interviewed and observed nearly every employee in the department. This convinced the court that these problems weren’t just a pretext.

That brings us to Takeaway #1: Thoroughly investigate and document performance issues, such as Donovan’s managerial problems, as soon as they arise. Yale’s comprehensive investigation was its saving grace in this case.

On a related note, here’s Takeaway #1a: An employer probably has more pressure to conduct a solid investigation if there was a recent incident involving an employee’s protected status. To try to show a pretext, Donovan emphasized that his termination came mere months after the retirement conversation. While the court here wasn’t convinced, another court viewing somewhat different facts might be. Again, consistent and accurate documentation of issues should avoid this dilemma.


Continue Reading Final Four Madness: Preparation Still Matters To Win On (or In) The Court

The snow may have stalled work in the state for a few days, but the Connecticut General Assembly is now in full swing with bills now being discussed and debated.

So far, the list of bills filed before the Labor & Public Employee Committee is small but that is expected to grow soon with bills

The short session of the Connecticut General Assembly is set to begin on February 5, 2014.

But the jockeying for items to get on the agenda is well under way. The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities is circulating a proposed bill that would followup on a failed bill from last year’s term.

I previously discussed this proposal in a post last May.

At the time, the proposed bill was thought to be close to passage, but time ran out in the session before it could be picked up.  Earlier versions the bill proved quite troublesome; this latest version still has issues that haven’t been addressed and it’s important for employers to speak up now before the changes are put into place.

So what are some of the changes this bill would bring?

Changes to “Mental Disability”

The bill expands the definition of a “mental disability” to not only “mental disorders, as defined in the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’”, but also to including having “a record of or regarding a person as having one or more such disorders”.

Put aside, for the moment whether including everything in the new DSM5 is worthwhile. The more troubling issue is that the proposed law would continue to cover “regarded as” claims for mental disabilities. The references to a “past history” of mental disability in existing law being removed by this bill are less significant because a “record” of disability would now be covered.

Why is that problematic? Becaues that the definition is inconsistent with how a “physical” disability is treated; where is the reference to being “regarded” as having a physical disability?

Rather than continue to treat mental and physical disabilities as distinct from each other, the legislature should take its cues from the ADA and match its definitions accordingly.  Otherwise, we’ll continue to have three different standards to analyze disability claims — one for ADA claims, and two for state disability-related claims.


Continue Reading Legislative Preview: Will the CHRO Bill Get Passed This Year?

If you spend anytime on the Internet, you’ve come across headlines like this one. (Yes, it’s a little bait-and-switch, but you were expecting that, weren’t you?).

Indeed, sites like Upworthy have become big business in the last year all due to headlines that you can’t resist.

Well, that and Grumpy Cats.

(For an excellent