In the case of Feliciano v. AutoZone, an employee sought damages from her employer, an auto parts store, for alleged discrimination and sexual harassment. The employee, a black female born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was terminated for allegedly improper use of a customer loyalty reward card for her own purposes. Allegedly, the same customer loyalty card had almost twenty transactions listed as processed under her customer service representative number. After investigation by a loss prevention specialist, the employee admitted to leaving the register signed in for the benefit of other employees. Upon termination, the employee sued the store, claiming that the manager had engaged in sexual harassment in the workplace and unlawfully terminated her employment on the basis of her national origin, religion and race.
The Claim of Disparate Treatment
The framework the state’s highest court employs in assessing disparate treatment discrimination claims under Connecticut law has been adapted from McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green and its progeny. The state’s highest court looks to federal law for guidance on interpreting state employment discrimination law, and the analysis is the same under both. Under this analysis, the employee must first make a prima facie case of discrimination. In order for the employee to first make a prima facie case of discrimination, the plaintiff must show: (1) the plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) the plaintiff was qualified for the position; (3) the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of discrimination. The employer may then rebut the prima facie case by stating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification for the employment decision in question.
Disbelief of an employer’s explanation for an adverse employment action, in combination with the plaintiff’s prima facie case of discrimination, may, under some circumstances, be sufficient to meet the plaintiff’s ultimate burden of proving intentional discrimination. An employment discrimination claim will not necessarily fail, as a matter of law, when the only evidence of discrimination is the evidence necessary to establish a prima facie case and evidence that the employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons are false. It is not enough to disbelieve the employer; the factfinder must believe the plaintiff’s explanation of intentional discrimination. The burden is on the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case that the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. An inference of discrimination may not be based on mere conjecture or surmise.Although the manager treated the employee despicably due to her national origin, religion or race, no causal connection was shown between the manager’s discriminatory animus and employee’s termination resulting from the improper use of the loyalty card.
The Claim of Sexual Harassment
In order to be actionable, a sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so. Whether an environment is objectively hostile is determined by looking at the record as a whole and at all the circumstances, including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. There must be more than a few isolated incidents of racial enmity, meaning that instead of sporadic racial slurs, there must be a steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments. Thus, whether racial slurs constitute a hostile work environment typically depends upon the quantity, frequency, and severity of those slurs considered cumulatively in order to obtain a realistic view of the work environment.
The employee’s hostile work environment claim based on sex under Connecticut law was met as the evidence supported the conclusion that the manager’s vulgar comments about the physical attributes of female customers, a co-worker and the employee, his repeated touching of his crotch and his sexually provocative conduct were ongoing issues.
This case was not handled by our firm. However, if you have any questions regarding this case, or any employment or labor matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.
If you feel you have been mistreated by your employer or in your place of employment and would like to explore your employment law options, contact the experienced employment law attorneys today at 203-221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com. We have the experience and knowledge you need at this critical juncture.
Source: Feliciano v. AutoZone, Inc., 316 Conn. 65, 111 A.3d 453, 2015 Conn. LEXIS 73, 126 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 947, 98 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P45,287 (Conn. 2015)
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