Jamaican Rastafarian Employee Loses Discrimination Claim Against Autozone

June 11, 2013, by Kristan Peters-Hamlin

In a May 21, 2013 decision, Feliciano v. Autozone, 142 Conn. App. 756 (2013), the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld the Hartford Connecticut trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Autozone, Inc. Kristan Peters-Hamlin, of the law firm of Peters Hamlin LLC, argued the motion for summary judgment on behalf of defendant Autozone, Inc., and summary judgment was granted on February 10, 2012, in favor of defendant on all five counts of the plaintiff's complaint alleging national origin discrimination, religious discrimination, sexual harassment, disability discrimination and race discrimination in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, General Statutes § 46a-51 et seq., specifically, General Statutes § 46a-60.1.

On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the court improperly rendered summary judgment because there existed genuine issues of material fact, which made the rendering of summary judgment inappropriate. At oral argument on appeal, the appellate court asked detailed questions to counsel for both sides about each of the five counts of discrimination. The court found that plaintiff's failure to present medical evidence that her injury to her foot was a chronic or permanent disability was fatal to her disability claim. Notably, the Appellate Court found that Rastafarianism is a religion, but that no reasonable fact-finder could find that plaintiff's Rastafarian religion was the reason she was terminated.

With respect to her sexual harassment claim, plaintiff alleged that her supervisor "Balboni kept rubbing his body against [the] [p]laintiff's as he walked past her in the aisles even though there was plenty of room." The plaintiff further alleged that she told Balboni to stop or he would get in trouble. After the plaintiff requested that Balboni stop this behavior, he allegedly "retaliated against her by sending her a text message saying, `you bitch.'" The Court of Appeals upheld the decision to grant summary judgment on this sex harassment claim, but on different grounds from the trial court. The Court of Appeals held that "the plaintiff's complaint failed to make any reference to a violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act on the ground of sexual harassment. We do not assume, as did the trial court, what the plaintiff did not plead, namely, that the plaintiff was alleging a "hostile or offensive working environment" claim of sexual harassment under § 46a-60 (a) (8) (C)."