DORIS FELICIANO v. AUTOZONE, INC., SC 19200

Judicial District of Hartford

 

     Discrimination; Employment; Whether Appellate Court Properly Affirmed Summary Judgment for Defendant on Claims Alleging Sexual Harassment and Discrimination on the Basis of National Origin, Religion, Disability and Race.  The plaintiff, a black female who was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and practices the Rastafarian religion, was employed by the defendant as a supervisor in one of its stores.  The defendant’s automatic loss prevention computer program detected irregular activity under the plaintiff’s customer service representative number, and the defendant accused the plaintiff of improperly using a customer loyalty reward card for her own use.  During the ensuing investigation, the plaintiff, in explaining the suspicious transactions, admitted to certain conduct that violated the defendant’s loss prevention policy, including allowing other employees to use the cash register while it was logged in under her name.  The plaintiff was fired and she brought this action, claiming that the defendant terminated her employment on the basis of her national origin, religion and race in violation of General Statutes § 46a-60, which prohibits discriminatory employment practices.  In support of those claims, the plaintiff alleged that the store manager, Michael Balboni, constantly harassed her by making offensive comments regarding her appearance and that he ridiculed her in front of other employees.  Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant violated § 46a-60 by failing to reasonably accommodate her disability resulting from an injury to her foot.  She also claimed that Balboni sexually harassed her by rubbing against her body as he walked past her.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.  The Appellate Court (142 Conn. App. 756) affirmed the judgment, upholding the grant of summary judgment on the claims alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin, religion and race on the ground that the plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact that she was terminated under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.  It explained that the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence showing either that she was treated differently from other employees who had committed similar misconduct or that there was a nexus between Balboni’s alleged discriminatory conduct and the defendant’s decision to terminate her employment.  It also opined that the identification of the plaintiff by the defendant’s automated computer program did not give rise to an inference of discrimination because the program was not specifically targeted at the plaintiff, but applied to all employees.  The court also upheld the summary judgment on the disability claim, stating that the plaintiff failed to produce any medical evidence that her foot injury rendered her disabled within the meaning of § 46a-60.  Finally, the court determined that summary judgment was warranted on the sexual harassment claim because the defendant did not have notice of the statutory basis for that claim.  It pointed out that the plaintiff, in her pleadings, failed to state whether Balboni’s alleged misconduct constituted sexual harassment under § 46a-60 (a) (8) or some other statute.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as to all the plaintiff’s claims.