CARMEN PEREZ-DICKSON v. CITY OF BRIDGEPORT et al., SC 18401
Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport
Labor; Retaliatory Employment Action; Racial Discrimination; Whether Plaintiff's Statutory (§ 31-51q) Retaliation Claim Fails Because the Statements Upon Which the Claim was Predicated were not Constitutionally Protected Speech; Whether There is a Right to a Private Cause of Action Under General Statutes § 17a-101e, Which Prohibits Employers from Retaliating Against Employees who Make Child Abuse Reports; Whether the Plaintiff Proved her Racial Discrimination Claim. Since 1989, the plaintiff, a Hispanic female, has been employed by the city of Bridgeport as a public school principal. In the late 1990s, the plaintiff filed with the department of children and families (DCF) two reports about minority students being assaulted by Caucasian teachers. Thereafter, in 2000, the city's board of education transferred the plaintiff to a lesser paying assignment. Subsequently, in 2005, after receiving a student abuse complaint against the plaintiff, the board placed the plaintiff on administrative leave. The allegation of student abuse was ultimately found to be unsubstantiated. The plaintiff brought this action against the city and the school board, alleging that the board members had subjected her to unlawful employment practices. Specifically, she claimed that her 2000 transfer and 2005 suspension were in retaliation for her filing complaints of child abuse with DCF. She asserted two statutory retaliation claims, one under General Statutes § 31-51q, which prohibits employers from disciplining employees in retaliation for exercise of their constitutionally protected right to free speech, and the other under General Statutes § 17a-101e, which prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who make child abuse reports to DCF. Additionally, the plaintiff asserted a racial discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the defendants, when investigating the student abuse charge, treated her differently in that she, unlike "Caucasian principals and teachers" who have been charged with student abuse, was not given an opportunity to hear the charge against her and admit or deny such charge before being placed on administrative leave. After trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. From the judgment rendered thereon, the defendants appeal. First, the defendants claim that because child abuse complaints were made by the plaintiff in her official capacity as a mandated reporter under General Statutes § 17a-101 (b), those complaints do not constitute constitutionally protected speech and, therefore, the plaintiff failed to prove her § 31-51q retaliation claim. The defendants also claim that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to the plaintiff's § 17a-101e retaliation claim because there is no right to a private cause of action under that statute. Next, the defendants claim that the plaintiff failed to prove her racial discrimination claim. Specifically, they argue that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination because those with whom she compared herself, as a matter of law, were not similarly situated in all material respects. Alternatively, the defendants argue that the plaintiff's racial discrimination claim must fail because she failed to prove actual discrimination.