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3.14-6  Retaliatory Discharge in Violation of General Statutes § 31-290a

Revised to January 1, 2008

The plaintiff has alleged that the defendant (terminated (his/her) employment / discriminated against (him/her)) in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 31-290a.  Connecticut General Statutes § 31-290a provides:

"(a) No employer who is subject to the provisions of this chapter shall discharge, or cause to be discharged, or in any manner discriminate against any employee because the employee has filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits or otherwise exercised the rights afforded to him pursuant to the provisions of this chapter."

In order to prevail on (his/her) claim under § 31-290a, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that ((his/her) discharge / the adverse employment action) was due to intentional discrimination based on (his/her) filing a claim for workers' compensation benefits.  Intentional discrimination is proved in this case if the plaintiff demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that (his/her) filing a workers' compensation claim was a motivating factor for ((his/her) discharge / the adverse employment action) even though other factors also motivated the defendant's decision to (discharge / take the adverse action) against (him/her).  A "motivating factor" is a factor that made a difference in the defendant's decision. 

The plaintiff does not have to prove that the filing of a workers' compensation claim was the sole or even the principal reason for the decision, as long as (he/she) proves that it was a determinative influence in the decision.  (He/She) may prove intentional discrimination directly by proving that (his/her) filing the workers' compensation claim motivated the defendant's action (in discharging (him/her) / taking the adverse employment action) or indirectly by proving that the (reason/reasons) given by the defendant for the discharge (was/were) unworthy of belief.  If you find that the defendant's stated reason[s] are not credible, then considering all the circumstances you may infer, although you are not required to infer, that the filing of the workers' compensation claim was a motivating factor in the defendant's decision, even if it may not have been the only motivating factor.

It is not your role to second-guess the defendant's business judgment. As long as the filing of a workers' compensation claim was not a motivating factor that made a difference in its decisions, the fact that an employer's decision was incorrect, unfair, unwise or capricious, or even based on personal favoritism or animosity is irrelevant. 

Notes

Otero v. Housing Authority, 86 Conn. App. 103, 108-109 (2004).  Section 31-290a also prohibits adverse employment actions against someone who "otherwise exercised the rights afforded to him pursuant to the provisions of this [workers' compensation] chapter."  If the plaintiff claims (he/she) was terminated because, for example, the employer refused to accommodate (him/her) as required by the workers' compensation statutes, then the charge should be changed accordingly.

Third Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction No. 5.1.2; Diamond Volume, L. Sand et al., Modern Federal Jury Instructions – Civil (2006) pp. 3-188 - 3-189 (original available at http://www.ca3uscourts.gov).  The cases cited above all follow federal law set forth in McDonnell Douglas.  The charge does not refer to the prima facie or burden shifting aspects of McDonnell Douglas because whether or not a plaintiff has established a prima facie case is an issue for the court and many federal courts have found that the burden sifting language has no place in a jury charge.  See e.g., Walther v. Lone Star Gas Co., 952 F.2d 119, 127 (5th Cir. 1992) ("the issue of whether a plaintiff made out a prima facie case has no place in the jury room.  Instructing the jury on the elements of a prima facie case, presumptions, and the shifting burden of proof is unnecessary and confusing."); Ryther v. Kare, 11, 108 F.3d 832 (8th Cir. 1997) ("Instructions incorporating the McDonnell Douglas paradigm add little to the juror's understanding of the case, and, even worse, may lead jurors to abandon their own judgment and to seize upon poorly understood legalisms to decide the ultimate question of discrimination."); Pivirotto v. Innovative Systems, Inc., 191 F.3d 344, n.1 (3rd Cir. 1999).

While this charge has not referred to the prima facie case or burden shifting for the reasons set forth above, the Appellate Court in Otero v. Housing Authority, supra, 86 Conn. App. 110-11, approved a charge that stated:  "The plaintiff bears the initial burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination.  In order to meet this burden, the plaintiff must present evidence that gives rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination."
 


 

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