Hopkins v. Bridgeport Bd of Ed et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part Defendant's 69 Motion for Summary Judgment. See attached memorandum of decision. Signed by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on 7/15/2011. (Fernandez, Melissa)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
LYMAN S. HOPKINS,
BRIDGEPORT BOARD OF EDUCATION,
: CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:09cv1143(VLB)
: JULY 15, 2011
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART
DEFENDANT’S [DOC. #69] MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the Defendant,
Bridgeport Board of Education (the “Board”). The Plaintiff, Lyman S. Hopkins
(“Hopkins”), proceeding pro se, brought this suit alleging violations of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) for employment
discrimination and retaliation as well as a breach of contract claim in connection
with a March 2008 Settlement Agreement (the “Settlement Agreement”) executed
by the parties with respect to charges Plaintiff filed with the Connecticut
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”). In particular,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated Title VII by refusing to provide
employment references as required under the terms of the Settlement Agreement
on the basis of race and gender discrimination. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant’s refusal to provide employment references is an employment practice
that caused a disparate impact on the basis of race and gender. For the reasons
stated hereafter, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted as to
Plaintiff’s Title VII claims, but denied as to Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim.
The following facts relevant to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment
are undisputed unless otherwise noted. [Doc. #71]. In September 2005, Plaintiff,
an African American male, received a one year contract for employment as a
bilingual teacher with Defendant and taught first-year Spanish classes. On or
about February 27, 2006, Plaintiff received notice from Defendant that his contract
would not be renewed. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant
alleging race and sex discrimination with the CHRO and in particular Plaintiff
alleged that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race, color, sex and
national origin. [Id.].
On February 25, 2008, Plaintiff signed a withdrawal of the CHRO complaint
and indicated that he had accepted a satisfactory offer from Defendant. The
parties executed a settlement agreement dated March 3, 2008 (“Settlement
Agreement”) in which Defendant agreed to pay Plaintiff $3,000 and Plaintiff
agreed to release all claims against Defendant. [Id.]. The parties further agreed
that “any specific inquiries, oral or written, made by prospective employers will
be directed to the Director of Bilingual Education Services and World Languages
for a response. In response to such inquiries, the Director will provide
information that is consistent with only the positive aspects of Hopkins’
performance, including his dates of employment, salary, position, and such other
matters as are set forth in the letter of recommendation attached hereto as
Exhibit A.” [Doc. #70, Ex. E, ¶2]. Plaintiff was also provided with the letter of
recommendation as required under the Settlement Agreement signed by the
Director of Bilingual Education Services and World Languages, Yvette DeFeo for
his use. [Doc. #70, Ex. F].
After his termination by the Board, but before the Settlement Agreement,
Hopkins held and was terminated from another teaching position. Plaintiff
subsequently applied for jobs with other school districts. Plaintiff asserts that in
connection with several of his applications for employment, Defendant did not
provide a reference letter containing information consistent with the positive
aspects of Hopkins’s employment with the Board in accordance with the terms of
the Settlement Agreement and because of Defendant’s discriminatory animus.
[Doc. # 77]. Plaintiff also alleges that several school districts required the
Defendant to submit applications including employment references electronically
through an automated online system.
In a letter dated July 9, 2008, Plaintiff wrote to DeFeo, the then current
Director of Bilingual Education Services and World Languages, notifying her that
several school districts had requested employment references noting that some
references could be mailed or faxed, while others required him to provide her
email address to facilitate her electronic submission of a reference. Plaintiff
requested that DeFeo provide him with an email address so that he could arrange
for such electronic submission of a reference. [Doc.#1-6, Ex. 5]. Plaintiff asserts
that DeFeo did not respond to his request for her email address. Plaintiff also
asserts that DeFeo did not respond to Plaintiff’s letter dated July 15, 2008,
requesting that she complete the attached references forms for the “Seminole
County PS and Citrus Country SB” and mail or fax the completed forms to their
In a letter dated July 21, 2008, Plaintiff wrote to the Superintendent of
Bridgeport Public Schools informing him that his employment reference requests
were not being responded to or furnished by Defendant’s employees. Plaintiff
included within this letter copies of the emails and letters he had written in June
and July of 2008 to DeFeo, two of Defendant’s teachers, Hector Sanchez and
Jorge Pezo, and Carole Pannozzo, the Director of the Bridgeport Board of
Education Human Resources Department, requesting that they complete various
employment references. [Doc. 1-12, Ex. 11]. Plaintiff further alleges that
Pannozzo was present at the January 2008 CHRO mediation hearings and
therefore presumably knew of the terms of the Settlement Agreement. [Doc. #1].
In particular, Plaintiff emailed Pannozzo on June 17, 2008 and again on June 28,
2008 regarding electronic employment reference requests and noted that he was
contacting her as he did not have DeFeo’s direct email address for him to provide
to school districts that required electronic references. [Doc. 1-12, Ex. 11].
Plaintiff received three emails dated August 4, 2008, September 30, 3008,
and October 28, 2008 respectively from the Human Resources Office of the St.
Johns School District informing him that they had not received the references
that had been requested from two of Defendant’s teachers, Hector Sanchez and
Jorge Pezo. [Doc.#1-7, Ex. 6].
Plaintiff also received two emails dated July 8, 2008 and January 27. 2009,
respectively from the Citrus County School District informing him that his
employment application was incomplete due to missing references from
Defendant Bridgeport Board of Education. [Doc.#1-8, Ex. 7].
In an email dated
July 8, 2008, the Citrus County School district informed Plaintiff that “your
application must be complete before consideration will be given.” [Id.].
On February 20, 2008, Plaintiff visited the Saint Lucie County Florida
School Board offices to view his employment file and discovered that a reference
form that was sent to Defendant’s Human Resources Department on August 26,
2007 had never been completed. [Doc. # 1].
Defendant disputes Plaintiff’s account that it refused to provide
employment references in breach of the Settlement Agreement, asserting that it
satisfied its obligations under the Settlement Agreement by providing Plaintiff
with a reference letter for his use and that Plaintiff did not provide this letter
which he had within his possession to the school districts where he had
outstanding reference requests. [Doc. # 71]. The Plaintiff admitted in his
deposition that he did not submit the reference letter with his employment
applications. In addition, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff did not comply with the
terms Settlement Agreement by directing employment reference inquiries to
individuals who were not the Director of Bilingual Education Services and World
Languages as required under the Settlement Agreement. [Id.].
Plaintiff also sets forth statistical evidence attesting to the fact that females
and non-minorities far outnumber males and minorities in foreign language
teaching positions in Connecticut Public Schools and that he was one of a few
African American males who held a foreign language teaching position in
Connecticut. [Doc. #1-3, Ex. 2 and Doc. #1-4, Ex. 3].
Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of
proving that no factual issues exist. Vivenzio v. City of Syracuse, 611 F.3d 98,
106 (2d Cir. 2010). “In determining whether that burden has been met, the court is
required to resolve all ambiguities and credit all factual inferences that could be
drawn in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.” Id.,
(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Matsushita
Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). “If there is any
evidence in the record that could reasonably support a jury's verdict for the nonmoving party, summary judgment must be denied.” Am. Home Assurance Co. v.
Hapag Lloyd Container Linie, GmbH, 446 F.3d 313, 315-16 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
Analysis of Employment Discrimination Claim
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of
his race and gender by refusing to provide employment references in accordance
with the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Under Title VII, Plaintiff’s claims of
discriminatory treatment are analyzed using the burden-shifting framework set
forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp., v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973).
McDonnell Douglas standard requires that Plaintiff establish a prima facie case of
discrimination by showing that (1) he is part of a protected class; (2) that he was
qualified for his position; (3) that he suffered an adverse employment action and
(4) that the circumstances surrounding the employment action give rise to an
inference of discrimination. Id. The Second Circuit has noted that the burden to
establish a prim facie case is “minimal” or “de minimis.” Woodman v. WWOR-TV,
Inc., 411 F.3d 69, 76 (2d Cir. 2005).
If Plaintiff can establish a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the
Defendant to proffer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse
employment action. McDonnell, 411 U.S. at 802. As this stage, Defendants need
only proffer, not prove, the existence of a nondiscriminatory reason for their
employment decision. See Texas Dep’t of Cmty Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248,
254-55 (1981). “This burden is one of production, not persuasion, it can involve
no credibility assessment.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530
U.S. 133, 142 (2000) (internal quotations omitted).
If Defendant meets its burden of production, the burden shifts back to
Plaintiff to show that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason offered by the
Defendant is mere pretext for illegal employment discrimination. McDonnell, 411
U.S. at 804. “Although the intermediate evidentiary burdens shift back and forth
under this framework, the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the
defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times
with the plaintiff.” Reeves, 530 U.S. at 143.
Under the McDonnell Douglass standard, Plaintiff has failed to establish a
prima facie case of employment discrimination.
While it appears there is no
dispute that Plaintiff has established the first two elements, Plaintiff cannot
establish that he suffered an adverse employment action as the conduct Plaintiff
complains of occurred after Plaintiff was no longer employed by Defendant. The
Second Circuit has held that for conduct to constitute an adverse employment
action, it must be a “materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of
employment.” Galabaya v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 202 F.3d 636, 640 (2d Cir.
The Supreme Court in Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White,
548 U.S. 53, 61-62, 66 (2006) concluded that “Title VII’s substantive provision and
its antiretaliation provision are not coterminous” and that only the anti-retaliation
provision extended to post-employment conduct.
The language of the
substantive provision of Title VII in Section 703(a) sets forth that it shall be an
unlawful employment practice for any employer to “(1) to fail or refuse to hire or
to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual
with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,
because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or (2) to
limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any
way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment
opportunities or otherwise adversely effect his status as an employee, because of
such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Id. at 61-62. The
Supreme Court in construing this language concluded that the “italicized words
in the substantive provision – ‘hire,’ ‘discharge,’ ‘compensation, terms,
conditions or privileges of employment,’ ‘employment opportunities,’ and ‘status
of employee’ – explicitly limit the scope of that provision to actions that affect
employment or alter the conditions of the workplace.” Id. at 62. Accordingly,
since the purported discriminatory conduct took place after Plaintiff was no
longer Defendant’s employee such conduct could not have affected Plaintiff’s
employment or altered the conditions of the workplace.
Lastly, the Court finds the facts and holding of Memnon v. Clifford Chance
US, LLP, 667 F. Supp. 2d 334 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) particularly relevant to the present
case. In that case, the plaintiff, an attorney, brought claims against her former
employer Clifford Chance US, LLP (“Clifford Chance”) for employment
discrimination under Title VII and for breach of contract.
The plaintiff made
complaints to Clifford Chance’s management of perceived discriminatory
The parties then agreed to settle the matter and plaintiff resigned.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Clifford Chance agreed to provide
plaintiff with a letter of recommendation. Plaintiff alleged that she repeatedly
requested that Clifford Chance provide the letter, but no letter came until almost a
year after the settlement agreement had been executed. Plaintiff then rejected the
letter that was proffered as woefully inadequate. Plaintiff contended that Clifford
Chance’s refusal to provide the recommendation letter breached the settlement
agreement and constituted unlawful discrimination under Title VII.
held that Plaintiff was not able to establish an employment discrimination claim
under the substantive provision of Title VII as there was no adverse employment
action since the allegations against Clifford Change occurred after Plaintiff had
resigned pursuant to the settlement agreement. Id. at 341-342. Likewise here,
Hopkins’s allegations against Defendant Bridgeport Board of Education all
occurred after Hopkins’s employment ended when his one-year contract expired
and wasn’t renewed.
Analysis of Retaliation Claim
Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not properly plead a retaliation claim in
his complaint and accordingly cannot raise new claims for the first time in
submission in opposition to summary judgment.
However, as Plaintiff is
proceeding pro se, the Court must liberally construe Plaintiff’s complaint and
submissions. Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir.
2006) (“This policy of liberally construing pro se submissions is driven by the
understanding that implicit in the right of self-representation is an obligation on
the part of the court to make reasonable allowances to protect pro se litigants
from inadvertent forfeiture of important rights because of their lack of legal
training”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Belpasso v.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 400 F’ App’x 600, 601 (2d Cir. 2010)
(“Where the party opposing summary judgment is proceeding pro se, we must
read the party’s pleading liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest
arguments that they suggest. A pro se plaintiff, however, cannot defeat summary
judgment by simply relying on the allegations of his complaint; he must present
admissible evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in his favor.”)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
In interpreting Plaintiff’s
complaint liberally, the Court construes Plaintiff’s pleadings to encompass a
For example, Plaintiff explicitly stated that he is seeking
monetary damages for “retaliation” in his complaint. [Doc. #1, p. 5]. In addition,
Plaintiff’s claims are premised on Defendant’s conduct after Plaintiff filed and
then settled a complaint with the CHRO which suggests that Plaintiff’s claims are
premised on a theory of retaliation. Therefore, Plaintiff’s complaint can certainly
be construed to have encompassed a retaliation claim.
To establish a prima facie claim for retaliation, the plaintiff must show that
(1) he engaged in a protected activity; (2) his employer is aware of the activity; (3)
the employer took some adverse action against him; and (4) a causal connection
exists between the protected activity and the adverse action that a retaliatory
motive played a party in the adverse employment action. Cifra v. G.E. Co., 252
F.3d 205, 216 (2d Cir. 2001).
Retaliation claims are also analyzed using the
burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas.
Here this is no dispute that Plaintiff engaged in a protected activity when
he filed a complaint with the CHRO and that Defendant was aware of that activity.
In addition, it is likely that Defendant’s failure to provide employment references
is sufficient to establish that Defendant took some adverse action against
As noted above, the Supreme Court in Burlington broadened the
spectrum of conduct that can qualify as an adverse employment action to include
Therefore, an adverse employment action in the
retaliation context need only be harmful to the point that they are likely to
dissuade a reasonable employee from making or support a charge of
discrimination. Burlington, 548 U.S. at 57. In addition, there is caselaw in this
circuit that supports a finding that the failure to provide employment references
constitutes an adverse employment action in the retaliation context. Memnon,
667 F. Supp. 2d at 342-344; Pantchenko v. C.B. Dolge Co., Inc., 581 F.2d 1052,
1055 (2d Cir. 1978) (refusal to provide employment references in retaliation for
filing complaint with EEOC could amount to a violation of Title VII).
However with respect to fourth prong regarding causation, the only
evidence presented in the record to support a finding of causation is the temporal
proximity between Hopkins’s protected activity and Defendant’s failure to provide
the requested references.
When temporal proximity alone is used to show
causation, the proximity must be “very close” in order to support a prima facie
case of retaliation. Clark Cnty. School Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273 (2001)
(20 month period suggested, “by itself, no causality at all”); see also Walder v.
White Plaints Bd. of Educ., 738 F. Supp. 2d 483, 503 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (“most of the
decisions in this Circuit that have addressed this issue have held that lapses of
time shorter than even three months are insufficient to support an inference of
causation”); Ghaly v. U.S. Dept. of Agric., 739 F. Supp. 2d 185, 200 (E.D.N.Y. 2010)
(nine month period between protected conduct and retaliation did not support
causation); Ragin v. E. Ramapo Cent. School Dist., No. 05 Civ. 6496, 2010 WL
1326779 at *24 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010) (five month period did not support
causation); but see Martin v. State Univ. of N.Y., 704 F. Supp. 2d 202, 230 (E.D.N.Y.
2010) (failure to promote retaliation claim occurring just over three months after
protected conduct did demonstrate causation where that was the first opportunity
for accused to take retaliatory action).
Here Hopkins entered into the Settlement Agreement on March 3, 2008 and
Hopkins’s earliest request for an employment reference was sent June 11, 2008.
[Doc. 1-13, Ex. 12]. Therefore, there was a period of approximately three months
between the protected activity and the first opportunity for Defendant to take
retaliatory action. When viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
Plaintiff and considering that within the education context hiring cycles are
typically done on an annual basis, the Court finds that a three month period could
allow for an inference of causation to satisfy the fourth prong of Plaintiff’s prima
However, Defendant has proffered two legitimate non-discriminatory
reasons for not providing the requested references. First, Defendant contends
that it did not provide the additional requested employment references since
Defendant had already provided Hopkins with a letter of recommendation for his
Second, Defendant asserts that Hopkins requested references from
individuals who were not the Director of Bilingual Education Services and World
Languages as was required by the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Under the
McDonnell burden-shifting framework, Defendants have arguably satisfied their
burden simply by articulating a legitimate purpose and therefore the burden now
shifts back to Plaintiff to show that these proffered reasons are merely a pretext
for retaliation. There is evidence in the record that Defendant’s proffered reasons
were pretextual. First, the Settlement Agreement obligated the Defendant to not
only provide the Plaintiff a reference letter, but also to provide additional
information consistent with the positive aspects of his employment as required
by the prospective employer.
The Defendant posits no reason for failing to
respond to prospective employers’ requirements for electronic submission of
reference material. Further, the Defendant agreed to refer all inquiries to Ms.
DeFeo. While Plaintiff solicited references from others, these requests were not
referred to Ms. Defeo as agreed upon when directed to Pannazzo who should
have known to refer the request to DeFeo.
The temporal proximity of the
Defendant’s repeated omissions coupled with the lack of a legitimate nonpretextual reason for the omissions are sufficient to satisfy Plaintiff’s burden to
rebut Defendant’s proffered reasons.
Contrastingly, in the Memnon case the court concluded that the plaintiff
could not demonstrate that Clifford Chance’s proffered reasons for not providing
the letter of recommendation was pretextual where a reference letter was not
provided as agreed in settlement of a discrimination claim because the form and
content of the letter had not been agreed to prior to the execution of the
Here the content of the additional information to be
provided by the Defendant had been agreed. Clifford Chance also contended that
James Paul, who was to provide the letter to Memnon and who had not previously
worked with her and was not familiar with her work, believed that Memnon would
obtain the letter from a partner with whom she had worked while employed.
Memnon, 667 F. Supp. 2d at 344.
Here, the parties made clear who was
responsible for providing additional information to Hopkins’s prospective
employers. Unlike, the court in Memnon where the plaintiff relied on temporal
proximity alone to meet her burden and after “scouring the record” the court
found no other evidence of pretext, there is patent evidence of pretext in the
record in this case. Accordingly Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim under Title VII is denied.
Analysis of Disparate Impact Claim
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant’s practice of refusing to provide
employment references was a policy or practice that caused a disparate impact
on the basis of race and gender. The Court notes that while Plaintiff does not
explicitly plead a cause of action for disparate impact in his complaint, he does
allege that he is of “acute representation” and attaches a statistical report that
notes that females and non-minorities far outnumber males and minorities in
foreign language teaching positions in Connecticut Public Schools. [Doc. #1-3,
Ex. 2 and Doc. #1-4, Ex. 3]. Accordingly, the Court liberally construes Plaintiff’s
complaint to encompass a disparate impact cause of action.
clarifies his theory of disparate impact in his opposition to Defendant’s motion
for summary judgment arguing that “Plaintiff employment references is
[Bridgeport Board of Education] policy or custom toward Plaintiff demographic
makeup which is inconsistent with the vast majority of state foreign language
educators.” [Doc. #77].
To establish a prima facie case of disparate impact, Plaintiff must show
that a facially neutral employment policy or practice has a significant disparate
impact. Brown v. Coach Stores, Inc., 163 F.3d 706, 712 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing
Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 324, 430-32 (1971)). Here, Plaintiff has not
alleged a facially neutral employment policy or practice. Instead, he is alleging
that Defendant refuses to provide employment references to African American
males. Moreover, Plaintiff has provided no evidence that the refusal to provide
employment references was a general practice or policy of Defendant. Reid v.
Zackenbaum, No. 05-cv-1569, 2005 WL 1993394, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2005)
(concluding that plaintiff’s complaint does not allege nor was there any indication
in the complaint that the challenged employment practice produced a
disproportionate impact but “rather, at most [Plaintiff] alleges that it produced an
adverse impact on him”); see also Collette v. St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hosp., 132 F.
Supp. 2d 256, 277 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (“It is difficult to see how one alleged instance
of defendant’s failure to post a job – a job which the [plaintiff] was aware of, and
interviewed for – is sufficient to plead an actionable employment practice or
policy which limits the job opportunities of historically disfavored groups”).
most, Plaintiff has alleged and provided evidence that the challenged
employment action only had an adverse impact on him. Therefore Plaintiff has
failed to demonstrate a prima facie case of disparate impact.
Assuming arguendo that there was a facially neutral policy or practice of
refusing to provide employment references, Plaintiff must “establish that the
challenged employment practice caused the statistical disparity.”
Joint Apprenticeship Comm. of Joint Industry Bd. of Elec. Indus., 895 F.2d 86, 90
(2d Cir. 1990).
Plaintiff has submitted a National Study on Secondary to
Postsecondary Foreign Language Articulation by the University of Connecticut
and a study from the National Center of Education Statistics in support of his
disparate impact claim. [Doc.#1-3, Ex. 2, Doc. #1-4, Ex. 3]. Both studies note that
there are few minority or male foreign language teachers in Connecticut. [Id.].
However, it is well established that “a Title VII plaintiff does not make out a case
of disparate impact simply by showing that at the bottom line, there is racial
imbalance in the work force. As a general matter, a plaintiff must demonstrate
that it is the application of a specific or particular employment practice that has
created the disparate impact under attack. N.A.A.C.P. v. Town of East Haven, 998
F. Supp. 176, 184 (D. Conn. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
Here Plaintiff has only demonstrated that at the bottom line there is a racial
imbalance in the workforce which could be the result of any number of factors.
Plaintiff has failed to provide evidence that links this bottom line imbalance to
Defendant’s purported practice or policy of refusing to provide employment
Brown, 163 F.3d at 712 (noting that the casual connection
requirement “recognizes that underrepresentation of blacks might result from
any number of factors, and it places an initial burden on the plaintiff to show that
the specified factor challenged under the disparate impact model results in the
discriminatory impact … [Plaintiff] does not connect  general statistics to any
[Defendant] policy”). Plaintiff’s sole reliance on general statistics which reflect a
bottom line racial imbalance is insufficient to establish a case of disparate impact
and the Court therefore grants summary judgment on Plaintiff’s disparate impact
Analysis of Breach of Contract Claim
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant breached the Settlement Agreement when
it did not respond to the Plaintiff’s repeated requests for Defendant to provide
additional employment references. Defendant argues there was no breach as
Defendant provided Plaintiff with a letter of recommendation that Plaintiff
admitted he did not submit to the various school districts where he had
outstanding requests for employment references. In addition, Defendant argues
there was no breach as Plaintiff’s requests for employment references were not in
accordance with the terms of the Settlement Agreement as Plaintiff himself
requested references from individuals who were not the Director of Bilingual
Education Services and World Languages.
Under Connecticut law, the elements of a breach of contract action are (1)
the formation of an agreement; (2) performance by one party; (3) breach of the
agreement by the other party; and (4) damages.
Empower Health LLC v.
Providence Health Solutions LLC, No. 3:10-cv-1163, 2011 WL 2194071, at *4 (D.
Conn. June 3, 2011) (citation omitted). “It is a fundamental principle of contract
law that the existence and terms of a contract are to be determined from the
intent of the parties. The parties' intentions manifested by their acts and words
are essential to the court's determination of whether a contract was entered into
and what its terms were.” Auto Glass Express, Inc. v. Hanover Ins. Co., 293
Conn. 218, 225 (2009). “[T]he interpretation and construction of a written contract
present only questions of law, within the province of the court ... so long as the
contract is unambiguous and the intent of the parties can be determined from the
agreement's face.” Tallmadge Bros., Inc. v. Iroquois Gas Transmission System,
L.P., 252 Conn. 479, 495 (2000) (quoting 11 S. Williston, Contracts § 30.6 (4th ed.
1999)). “Contract language is unambiguous when it has a definite and precise
meaning ... concerning which there is no reasonable basis for a difference of
opinion.” Levine v. Advest, Inc., 244 Conn. 732, 746 (1998) (internal citations and
The Settlement Agreement provides in relevant part that:
[A]ny specific inquiries, oral or written, made by prospective employers will
be directed to the Director of Bilingual Education Services and World
Languages for a response. In response to such inquiries, the Director will
provide information that is consistent with only the positive aspects of
Hopkins’ performance, including his dates of employment, salary, position,
and such other matters as are set forth in the letter of recommendation
attached hereto as Exhibit A. [Doc. #70, Ex. E, ¶2].
By the express terms of the Settlement Agreement, Defendant was
obligated to respond to inquiries made by prospective employers.
Plaintiff made inquiries directly, but at the behest of prospective employers.
Therefore, Plaintiff’s own requests for Defendant to complete additional
references were contemplated by the express terms of the Agreement.
Accordingly, the Court finds that it appears from the record that DeFeo’s failure
to respond to Plaintiff’s July 15, 2008 letter addressed to her requesting that she
complete the attached reference forms by providing additional information
consistent with the positive aspects of Hopkins’s performance as provided in the
Settlement Agreement for the Seminole County PS and Citrus Country SB was a
breach of contract. [Doc.#1-6, Ex. 5].
Requests for Defendant’s teachers Sanchez and Pezo to complete
employment references on behalf of Plaintiff however are not contemplated by
the express terms of the contract. The Settlement Agreement unambiguously
provides that “any specific inquiries, oral or written, made by prospective
employers will be directed to the Director of Bilingual Education Services and
World Languages for a response” and therefore Defendant’s failure to respond to
the employment requests that were directed to Sanchez and Pezo did not
constitute a breach of contract as the record does not support an inference that
they knew to refer the requests to DeFeo.
Plaintiff’s requests to Pannazzo and DeFeo to provide Plaintiff with an
email address to facilitate the online submission of employment references could
possibly be seen as a breach of contract.
Plaintiff can be seen to be essentially
conveying the employer’s request for an electronic submission when he
requested DeFeo’s email address.
It appears that Plaintiff needed to provide
DeFeo’s email address to certain prospective employer’s automated online
application systems which then would trigger that employer sending a request
directly to DeFeo for an electronic employment reference.
The Court finds that
such email requests for an electronic employment reference would likely
constitute “any specific inquiries oral or written, made by prospective employers”
and would be accordingly covered under the terms of the Settlement Agreement.
The Court also finds that Pannazzo as head of Defendant’s Human Resources
Department had the obligation to direct requests made by prospective employers
to DeFeo under the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Therefore, the Court
finds there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Defendant failed
to comply with its obligations under the Settlement Agreement when it failed to
provide Plaintiff with DeFeo’s email address.
In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to respond to both the
Citrus County School District and the Saint Lucie Country School District
requests for employment references sent to Defendant’s Department of Human
Resources. [Doc. #1 and Doc. #1-8, Ex. 7]. It is unclear from the evidence in the
record whether Plaintiff sent the employment requests directly himself to Human
Resources or if the School Districts themselves sent them and therefore the
Court finds there is a genuine issue of material fact in dispute with regard to
whether Defendant breached the Settlement Agreement by not responding to
these two school districts.
Lastly, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to allege a nexus between
the alleged breach and Plaintiff’s alleged damages.
West Haven Sound Dev.
Corp. v. City of West Haven, 207 Conn. 308, 314-15 (1988) ("It is hornbook law that
to be entitled to damages in contract a plaintiff must establish a causal relation
between the breach and the damages flowing from that breach.").
Plaintiff has provided evidence suggesting that his damages were directly and
proximately caused at least with respect to one potential instance of Defendant’s
breach of contract. In connection with Defendant’s employment application with
the Citrus County School District, Plaintiff has provided evidence that his
application for employment was not considered as a result of his incomplete
application. [Doc.#1-8, Ex. 7]. Accordingly, the Court finds there is a genuine
issue of material fact regarding whether Defendant’s breach directly caused
Plaintiff damages. For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies Defendant’s
motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim.
Based upon the above reasoning, the Defendant’s [Doc. #69] motion for
summary judgment is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART. Plaintiff’s
breach of contract and retaliation claims remain extant. The rest of Plaintiff’s
claims are hereby dismissed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant
United States District Judge
Dated at Hartford, Connecticut: July 15, 2011
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