Festa v. East Haven Board of Education
A board of education's failure to test a teacher, to examine the extent of the teacher's ability to teach after sustaining a traumatic brain injury, could constitute prima facie evidence of discrimination, in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. In 1996, the defendant board of education hired the plaintiff as a third-grade teacher. In 2006, after she was assigned to teach Kindergarten, a driver allegedly rear-ended the plaintiff's motor vehicle, and she suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, recovered and returned to work. A second motor-vehicle accident in 2008 exacerbated the plaintiff's injury. After a leave of absence, the plaintiff returned and allegedly made inappropriate remarks while taking pain medicine. The plaintiff's physician, Dr. Thimineur, opined that the plaintiff had not recovered sufficiently to teach third grade, although she could teach Kindergarten. The superintendent of schools, who previously had observed the plaintiff teach third grade, decided that teaching third grade was the best assignment for the plaintiff. In September 2010, the plaintiff was assigned to teach third grade and did not report to work when school started. The defendant board of education discharged the plaintiff, because she refused to teach third grade, was insubordinate and abandoned her job. The plaintiff filed suit, alleging that she was disabled and was capable of working, if she received the reasonable accommodation of teaching Kindergarten. The plaintiff's complaint alleged that the defendant violated the CFEPA. Connecticut General Statutes §46a-60(a)(1) prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of physical or mental disability. The school district failed to test the plaintiff, to discover whether she could perform essential job functions as a third-grade teacher, and the court found that the plaintiff established a prima facie case of discrimination. "[F]ailure to conduct testing to examine the extent and seriousness of mental illness or learning disability," wrote the court, "evinces discriminatory action where there is grounds to believe such a condition exists that might affect job performance." The court remanded with orders to test the plaintiff's ability to teach.