Festa v. Board of Education of the Town of East Haven
Connecticut's Fair Employment Practices Act, Connecticut General Statutes §46a-60, requires employers to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee's known disability; but the employee is not entitled to the accommodation of her choice, she is entitled to a reasonable accommodation. Marci Festa, a tenured teacher employed in the East Haven Public School, was suspended for inappropriate comments in 2009. The Board of Education reinstated Festa after an independent medical examiner concluded that Festa sustained a traumatic brain injury in two car accidents and the injury and pain medication were the likely cause of her comments. For the 2010 school year, the board restructured the school district, assigning Festa to teach third grade. Her requests to be transferred back to a kindergarten classroom due to her brain injury were denied. Superintendent Anthony Serio invited Festa to speak with him about other accommodations. Festa did not and failed to appear for her first day of work. Ultimately, following administrative hearings, the board terminated her employment contract for insubordination and other due and sufficient cause. Festa filed this action under the Teacher Tenure Act, C.G.S. §10-151. The court held that the board violated the plaintiff's rights under CFEPA by not conducting an independent medical evaluation before terminating Festa's employment. The board appealed challenging the ruling and claiming that the court improperly considered Festa's disability claim. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment. The Appellate Court recently ruled in Langello v. West Haven Board of Education, that "any teacher who is terminated pursuant to the Tenure Teacher Act enjoys the protections of the Fair Employment Practices Act." Given Langello and the public policy prohibiting disability discrimination, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in considering whether the plaintiff was afforded CFEPA's protections when the board terminated her employment. However, the plaintiff was afforded the protection required by CFEPA. The record reflected that the plaintiff was responsible for the breakdown in the interactive process. Aware that the board lacked sufficient information to understand how her disability specifically affected her job performance or why her requested accommodation was necessary or reasonable, the plaintiff failed to provide such information. She obstructed the process by not discussing alternative accommodations and not reporting to work. The board did not abuse its discretion in terminating her employment.