Fiveash v. Conn. Conference of Municipalities, AC 44824

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Citation215 Conn.App. 542,284 A.3d 362
Docket NumberAC 44824
Parties Sharon FIVEASH v. CONNECTICUT CONFERENCE OF MUNICIPALITIES et al. Sharon Fiveash v. Joseph DeLong et al.
Decision Date04 October 2022

215 Conn.App. 542
284 A.3d 362


Sharon Fiveash
Joseph DeLong et al.

AC 44824

Appellate Court of Connecticut.

Argued May 11, 2022
Officially Released October 4, 2022

James H. Howard, for the appellant (plaintiff in each case).

Rachel V. Kushel, Stamford, for the appellees (defendants in each case).

Alvord, Elgo and Clark, Js.


215 Conn.App. 543

In these employment discrimination actions, the plaintiff, Sharon Fiveash, appeals from the summary judgment rendered in favor of the defendants, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, Inc. (CIRMA), Faith Brooks, Joseph DeLong, and Ronald W. Thomas. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred in concluding that there were no

284 A.3d 363

genuine issues of material fact regarding the plaintiff's claims of gender discrimination and retaliation. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

The following facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and procedural history are revealed by the record. CCM is Connecticut's statewide association of towns and municipalities. CIRMA is a separate legal entity through which CCM provides insurance services to its members.

215 Conn.App. 544

The plaintiff was hired on or about May 5, 2015, as director of member services at CCM. Throughout the plaintiff's tenure with CCM, she received positive employment reviews. In 2018, however, several employees in the plaintiff's department resigned while she was the director. During exit interviews, a few of those employees expressed displeasure with working for the plaintiff and voiced complaints about her. In response to these negative complaints, DeLong, the executive director of CCM, instructed Brooks, the director of human resources, to conduct an investigation into the allegations coming from the member services department. The plaintiff was notified by letter of the workplace complaints and the initiation of an investigation and was placed on a paid suspension pending the completion of the investigation. The investigation focused on, inter alia, whether the plaintiff abused her authority, micromanaged, created an unhealthy work environment, and/or failed to respect authority. Following the investigation, Brooks issued an investigation report, which substantiated many of the allegations against the plaintiff. The plaintiff's employment with CCM was terminated on October 19, 2018.

In June, 2019, the plaintiff commenced an action against Brooks, DeLong, and Thomas, who served as deputy director of CCM, claiming that they aided and abetted gender discrimination against her in violation of General Statutes § 46a-60 (b) (5).1 In August, 2019, she commenced a separate action against CCM and CIRMA claiming that they committed workplace discrimination against her on the basis of gender in violation of § 46a-60 (b) (1)2 and retaliated against her in

215 Conn.App. 545

violation of § 46a-60 (b) (4).3 On October 2, 2019, the

284 A.3d 364

plaintiff filed a motion to consolidate, requesting that the court consolidate the actions for purposes of discovery, pretrial pleadings and trial, explaining that the individual defendants in the first action are the officers and/or employees of the entities that are the defendants in the second action. On November 13, 2019, the court, Sheridan, J. , granted the motion.

On March 19, 2021, following discovery, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in each case, arguing that there were no genuine issues of material fact that would permit an inference of gender discrimination, or, in the alternative, that her termination was a pretext for gender discrimination. On May 11, 2021, the plaintiff filed her opposition to the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

In a memorandum of decision dated June 22, 2021, the court, Moukawsher, J. , granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court focused its attention on the final step of the

215 Conn.App. 546

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green , 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973) burden shifting framework, evaluating whether CCM's articulated, nondiscriminatory reason for the plaintiff's termination was pretextual.4 It stated: "CCM says [it] fired [the plaintiff] because she micromanaged and bullied the employees she supervised. More than one of them said so in exit interviews. There was an investigation. The complaints were deemed well-founded. [The plaintiff] was fired, and CCM cited this bullying as the reason.

"[The plaintiff] insists this isn't the real reason. She says the real reason was because a supervisor ... Thomas, didn't like her because she is a woman and that this led to her being fired. In support she cites a variety of indirect evidence—and, yes, indirect evidence is not only enough, it is often all there is.

"[The plaintiff] says her office was smaller than the offices given to male supervisors and she was paid less. She says there are too few women in proportion to men at CCM. While the sister organization [CIRMA] she is suing has women in leadership, she was the only woman among her peers at CCM. She says a subordinate employee not under her charge once called her a ‘bitch.’ She claims the head of CCM joked at a meeting that she was a ‘slave driver’ to her staff. [The plaintiff's]

215 Conn.App. 547

expert says ... Brooks did a poor job looking into the complaints and suggests she was swayed by Thomas. [The plaintiff] says Thomas was friendly to the male supervisors and unfriendly to her, unreasonably interfering with her job duties. She says Thomas wouldn't answer her emails. Thomas complains she wouldn't answer his. The parties offered evidence of arguments between the two via email.

284 A.3d 365

"All of this must be looked at through the lens ... for summary judgment motions. ... From what has been submitted, should [the plaintiff] get to a jury with the question whether her gender was a substantial factor in her firing? [The plaintiff] has described conditions at CCM that are different for her than men in her office. But to get to a jury these things have to be at least substantially linked with the decision to fire her. It isn't enough that they existed. They have to be a substantial cause of her firing. And that's where the trouble is. The court doesn't see anything a jury might latch onto to connect the two.

"The evidence about Thomas in particular points unmistakably to a different problem. The submissions of both sides document that when [the plaintiff] started her job she thought she would report solely to the head of CCM ... DeLong. But when she got the paperwork after arriving for work it showed her reporting to ... Thomas. She complained...

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    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • October 4, 2022
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