PETER VOLLEMANS, JR. v. TOWN OF WALLINGFORD, SC 17974

Judicial District of New Haven at Meriden

 

Employment; Age Discrimination; Whether Cause of Action Accrues on Final Date of Employment or upon Notice of Termination. On February 25, 2000, the plaintiff, a 54 year old superintendent at a power plant owned and operated by the defendant, was informed that the plant was closing and that his position was being eliminated. At some point before November 13, 2002, he was told that his last work day would be on or about December 31, 2002. Subsequently, he received a letter dated December 13, 2002, which gave him "final notice" of his termination. The plaintiff's last day of employment was January 21, 2003. On June 3, 2003, he filed an age discrimination complaint with the commission on human rights and opportunities (commission). Finding that the plaintiff had notice of the termination more than 180 days before he filed his complaint, the commission dismissed the complaint as untimely under General Statutes 46a-82 (e), which requires that complaints be filed "within 180 days after the alleged act of discrimination." Thereafter, upon the commission's authorization, the plaintiff commenced the instant action. The defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging that (1) the complaint to the commission was untimely, (2) the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, and (3) the defendant presented a nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. Concluding that the complaint was untimely, the court rendered summary judgment in the defendant's favor. In doing so, it applied the federal rule enunciated in Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250 (1980), namely, that the date of unequivocal notice of termination controls in determining when a cause of action accrues under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court found that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the plaintiff had received notice of termination before November 13, 2002, and that the complaint had not been filed within 180 days of that date. On appeal to the Appellate Court (103 Conn. App. 188), the plaintiff argued that the relevant date for determining when the action accrued was the date of termination. Alternatively, he claimed that he was given unequivocal notice on December 13, 2002, which was within 180 days of the filing of his complaint. The court, after finding that the language of 46a-82 (e) was ambiguous, considered the legislative policy of avoiding dismissal of meritorious claims based on late filings of complaints as well as the remedial purpose of our antidiscrimination statutes. It then suggested that a genuine issue of material fact might exist as to whether the defendant provided unequivocal notice of termination prior to December 13, 2002. The court ultimately declined to adopt the federal rule and held that the filing period under 46a-82 (e) starts upon the termination of employment, not when an employee is notified of the cessation. It thus found that the instant complaint was timely, having been filed within 180 days of January 21, 2003, the final day of employment. Next, the court concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate on the merits of the claim because, having found that the plaintiff established a prima facie case of age discrimination, there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant's stated nondiscriminatory reason was pretextual. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment of the trial court. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court's conclusions were correct.